Meet Kim, a regal jumping spider (Phidippus regius) that has recently been the focus of a very lively science experiment. Kim is the world’s first jumping spider that got trained in the lab so that scientists could understand the mechanics of its vaulting skills.
This odd experiment, detailed in the video below, was devised by researchers from the University of Manchester in the U.K. This imaginative team trained Kim to jump on command so that they could observe the hunting behavior of these predatory spiders, which catch their prey by leaping unto it.
In a series of highly acrobatic tests, the team trained the arachnid to jump different distances and heights, marking an absolute first in the annals of science, notes a news release from the university.
The end goal of all this jumping around has less to do with spideresque somersaults and is actually connected to the field of robotics. According to the university, the team wanted to get a good grasp on the biomechanics of jumping spiders so that the data could be applied in the future to design “a new class of agile micro-robots that are currently unthinkable using today’s engineering technologies.”
“Design and build of bio-inspired jumping robots continues to be an area of interest,” the researchers wrote in a study, published today in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
As the team explains, engineers have inexplicably shown a complete disregard for jumping spiders when turning to nature for inspiration. So far, jumping robots have been modeled after the biomechanisms of fleas, grasshoppers, and galagos, among other hopping creatures. However, jumping spiders have been completely overlooked, even though the arachnids “prioritize speed and accuracy over jumping distance,” the researchers point out in their paper.
To set the record straight and unlock the great potential that jumping spiders can bring to robotics, the team employed ultra-high-speed cameras to record the arachnid’s movements. Afterward, they turned to high-resolution micro CT scans, which enabled them “to create a 3D model of Kim’s legs and body structure in unprecedented detail,” reveals the news release.
“A jumping spider can leap up to six times its body length from a standing start,” said lead study author Dr. Mostafa Nabawy, from the university’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering.
As he points out, human jumping capabilities don’t even come close to those of regal jumping spiders, since our best score is about 1.5 our body length.
Nabawy also commented on how jumping spider’s biomechanics could benefit future scientific advancements.
“The force on the legs at take-off can be up to five times the weight of the spider — this is amazing and if we can understand these biomechanics we can apply them to other areas of research.”
The experiment revealed that this species of arachnids can adapt their jumping strategy according to the difficulty of the leap and “can accurately plan jumps to achieve a specific landing target,” Nabawy’s team wrote in their paper.
The tests showed that Kim chose faster, lower trajectories to jump shorter, close-range distances, as this minimized flight time and made the jump more accurate. Since this uses up more energy, the spider quickly switched to a more efficient strategy when jumping a longer distance or onto an elevated platform.
In addition, the study revealed that regal jumping spiders can pull off their leaping performance by simply relying on their muscle force. As it turns out, the internal hydraulic pressure that spiders use to extend their legs is not needed to enhance the force of their muscles.
“Thus, the role of hydraulic movement in spiders remains an open question,” said study co-author Dr. Bill Crowther.