Spiders might not be the most pleasant creatures to see lurking around your home, but they serve an important purpose in dispatching flies and other pests that would otherwise be left unchecked. Many spiders are passive hunters, weaving webs and simply waiting for an unsuspecting insect to get stuck, but a new study by researchers at the University of Akron reveals that one particular spider species likes to use its own body as a projectile, and it’s actually kind of terrifying.
In the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists observed the peculiar hunting habits of triangle-weaver spiders Hyptiotes cavatus. Ambushing prey is something that most spiders are skilled at, but triangle weavers take things to the next level by using their own webs to fling their bodies at high speeds.
The technique is utterly genius: First, the spider forms the base of its triangular web using two static points as the foundation. Then, using its body as the third anchor point, it stretches it pulls the web taut, hanging on patiently until a fly or other insect contacts the web.
Once its prey touches the web, the spider releases its body and all the stored energy it has built up by keeping tension on the web. The spider doesn’t actually strike the prey, but the release of the tension causes the web to contract, covering the prey in additional web strands and making it impossible for it to escape.
“This is the only known case of a nonhuman utilizing an external device for power amplification,” the researchers write. “This finding reveals an underappreciated function of spider silk and expands our understanding of how power amplification is used in natural systems, showing remarkable convergence with human-made power-amplifying tools.”