Daredevil arachnids

Selenops spider

Scientists searching through the treetops in Panama and Peru have discovered a previously unknown species of spider that glides its way to safety after a fall. And it can change direction in mid-air. The daredevil arachnids steer themselves through the air with movements of their outstretched forelegs.

The species, belonging to the genus Selenops, is the only one ever found that has this ability. They’re nocturnal hunters that hide in crevices or under bark. The largest species are about three inches wide, but less than a sixteenth of an inch thick. Selenops have evolved to live in the treetops where there are fewer predators. Gliding helps them move from tree to tree without venturing down to the dangerous forest floor. When the spiders began to fall, they take just a tiny fraction of a second to flip themselves right side up and point their heads towards a tree trunk.

The study of this kind of behaviour may help engineers design robots in the future that can remain upright during a fall.