Have you ever seen a spider dangling from a silk thread, only to let go and plummet towards the ground? Did you notice if it landed upright or tumbled around before getting its footing? Spiders are amazing acrobats that can stick a landing with ease. But do they always land on their feet?
Do Spiders Land on Their Feet?
When spiders fall or jump from heights, they have an ingenious trick up their (multiple) sleeves. Spiders can adjust their body position mid-air to ensure they land upright using their incredible sense of equilibrium and lightning-fast reflexes.
Spiders have two main body parts – the cephalothorax (head region) and the abdomen. The cephalothorax contains the eyes, mouth, legs, and brain. This part is quite rigid and held horizontally as they fall. The flexible abdomen dangles below.
Having such a modular body allows spiders to twist and turn independently of each other as they descend. Specialised hairs on their legs sense air currents and vibrations to determine which way is up. Their nervous system processes this information in a split second, signalling the hydraulic limbs to make minute movements to reorient the body. At the last moment, the spider straightens its legs to prepare for impact. The end result is a perfect ten landing.
So, in short – yes, spiders do land on their feet! Their specialised anatomy and reflexes enable them to reorient mid-air and stick the landing in the nick of time. Let’s examine why this skill evolved and how different species used it.
Why Do Spiders Need to Land Upright?
For spiders, landing upright isn’t just a cool party trick – it’s an essential survival skill. Here are some key reasons why spiders work so hard to land on their feet:
Spiders have an exoskeleton that protects their internal organs from damage. Landing the right way up distributes the impact through this hard outer shell rather than soft internal tissues. A clumsy landing could lead to broken limbs or a ruptured abdomen. Ouch!
Touching down ready to run or pounce allows spiders to beat a hasty retreat from threats or chase down prey. Landing on their backs leaves them vulnerable, wasting precious time righting themselves.
A spider’s eyes and sensory hairs are located on the front of the body. Landing upright keeps these delicate organs safe, allowing the spider to perceive its surroundings instantly.
Grip the surface
The scopulae (specialised hairy tips) on a spider’s feet stick best when pressed flat against a surface. Landing upside down would leave the spider scrambling for grip. Right-side up, these microscopic hairs swiftly secure the spider’s hold.
So, landing on their feet is key for spiders to avoid damage, escape danger, gather sensory information, and cling to surfaces. It’s no wonder evolution has honed their mid-air acrobatic skills. Now, let’s look at some examples of masterful spider landings.
Jumping Spiders – Expert Aerialists
Jumping spiders are legendary leapers able to pounce up to 50 times their body length. With insane accuracy, they can steer mid-leap towards targets and stick perfect, feet-first landings every time.
Several adaptations enable their aerial exploits:
- Powerful legs – Jumping spiders have strong, spring-loaded limbs that catapult them into the air when released.
- Flat bodies – Their pancake-like shape and light weight add distance to jumps.
- Multi-faceted eyes – Keen eyesight tracks targets in 3D and calculates distance.
- Reflexes – Swift neural signals adjust leg positions to control jump direction and rotation.
- Traction – specialised scopulae hairs on feet cling tightly upon impact.
In one experiment, jumping spiders were launched into the air with random spin and tilt. High-speed cameras showed them performing intricate aerial manoeuvres to right themselves in just 0.1 seconds!
So if you see a jumping spider take flight, don’t be surprised if it pulls off a perfect superhero landing every time. These spiders are the cat-twisting-in-mid-air of the arachnid world.
Web-Spinning Spiders – Dangling With Ease
Web-building spiders have just as much need for fancy footwork. Have you ever seen a spider rappelling down a silken strand or dangling from its web? These spiders can scuttle to the anchor point and tip backwards off the edge into thin air with total confidence they’ll land firmly on their feet.
Unlike jumping spiders, web-spinners rely on special silk techniques, not aerobatics, to land upright. Here are some they use:
- Anchoring draglines – Weaving a V-shaped filament from the feet as they climb down lets spiders control rotation.
- Pendulum swinging – Reeling out one strand while pulling in another creates twist momentum.
- Bungee cords – Stretchy threads act like rubber bands, turning the spider’s fall into a yo-yo bounce back upwards.
- Somersaulting – Spiders release silk to flip completely upside down, then shoot new threads to swing around.
So, while web spiders perform less mid-air acrobatics, they can still manipulate silk threads to guarantee they descend and land on their feet.
Crab Spiders – Patiently Lying in Wait
Not all spiders rely on aerial feats to land upright. Meet crab spiders – ambush predators with a clever trick for sticking the landing from any height.
Crab spiders climb to a vantage point like a leaf, branch or flower when hunting. Once positioned, they extend their front two pairs of legs forward, tilting the body back. Then, they let go, dropping straight down without jumping or spinning.
As they fall, the forward legs absorb the impact as they hit first. The spider’s rear legs and abdomen then gently make contact. This passive landing method allows them to touch down on their feet without any fancy aerobatics.
The crab spider’s patience is also key. They will cling in place for hours, even days, waiting for prey to wander by. When an unsuspecting insect flies or crawls within the range below, the spider releases its grip and drops stealthily into the attack position.
So, while crab spiders don’t actively reorient as they fall, their calculated approach passively ensures they land poised to strike. This technique maximises their chances of nabbing a quick meal.