Acrobatic 'Flic-Flac' Spider Somersaults Across the Sand [VIDEO]
A spider that moves across the sand by somersaulting like a gymnast is the inspiration for a new type of robot that can propel itself across rough surfaces in a similar manner.
The spider, a new species known as the Moroccan flic-flac spider (Cebrennus rechenbergi), makes its home in the the Erg Chebbi sand desert in southeastern Morocco.
The spider uses an acrobatic flic-flac handspring to propel itself headfirst across the sand in a rolling motion. No other spider is known to move like this, a team of German researchers report in the journal Zootaxa.
The golden rolling spider in Namibia can also move in a rolling fashion, but that species is restricted to using its roll when traveling downhill. The flic-flac spider can roll across flat surfaces, downhill and uphill as well.
When it's doing its acrobatics, the flic-flac spider can move at nearly double its normal walking speed, traveling about 2 meters per second.
Zoologists were keen on differentiating the spider from a closely related species of spider in Tunisia, which appears morphologically identical, save for minute differences in the arachnid's sex organs.
But the flic-flac spider's acrobatics solidify the creature in a class of its own.
Peter Jäger, a spider expert at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt and lead author of the research paper, said the the spider's "unique mode of locomotion" serves as a criterion to distinguish the species.
Engineers took inspiration from the nimble spider and designed a robot that can move across the sand in a similar fashion.
The robot, called "Tabbot," a nod to the Berber word for spider, "tabacha," was designed by German engineer Ingo Rechenberg.
"This robot may be employed in agriculture, on the ocean floor or even on Mars," Rechenberg said in a statement.