Friday, May 20, 2011

Tarantula Feet, Silk, and Research

"Tarantulas Shoot Silk From Their Feet, Researchers Find" (May 18, 2011)

"Talk about fancy footwork!

"British researchers have discovered that adult tarantulas can climb sheer walls by shooting strands of silk from their feet -- enabling the hefty arachnids to save themselves should they risk falling from a height. Tarantulas, it turns out, are actually quite fragile.

" 'The animals are very delicate. They wouldn't survive a fall from any height,' explained Claire Rind from the University of Newcastle in the U.K. Teaming up with undergraduate Luke Birkett, Rind made the surprising discovery using three ground-dwelling Chilean rose tarantulas.

"Gently placing one of the animals in a very clean aquarium with microscope slides on the floor, the duo cautiously upended the aquarium to see if the tarantula could hang on...."

It did.

It wasn't supposed to, but it did.

Apparently folks 'knew' that tarantulas couldn't hold on to a vertical surface: but the tarantula in the tank wasn't quite so well-informed. So to speak.

Even a gentle shake didn't dislodge the outsized spider. It slipped a little, but found footing again.

Back to that article.

"...Looking at the glass by eye, Rind couldn't see anything, but when she and Birkett looked closely under a microscope, they found minute threads of silk where the spider had stood before slipping...."

Long story made short, moults - the cast-off exoskeleton of Fluffy the tarantula - and scanning electron microscopy showed tiny, reinforced, silk spigots on the spider's feet. Quite a few of them.

Which explained how Fluffy got little threads of silk tying her feet to the glass.

It's possible that not all tarantulas spin silk from their feet. But since the three species checked by the researchers all do, and aren't very closely related: it looks like foot-silk may be a 'tarantula' trait.

All of which won't help you find a shorter route to work, make your teeth whiter, or find you a successful and rewarding career. But the Lemming thinks this sort of thing is fascinating.

The Lemming also thinks it's noteworthy that these British researchers decided to see whether or not tarantulas could hold on to a vertical glass surface. Instead of reading what an 'expert' said.

And that's another topic.

Finally, if you check the tags for this post you'll find "insects," and "animals." Spiders aren't insects, but this blog has a whole lot of tags already, and I'm not going to start a new "arachnid" one.

Spiders are animals, though: although many folks who speak the same dialect of English as the Lemming mean "mammal" when they say "animal." Which has the same number of letters. And most of the same letters. It's the "i" and "n" that sets "animal" apart.

Then there are words like eukaryotic: and that is yet another topic.

Not-completely-unrelated posts:


Brigid said...

There seems to be a hyphen missing, since I doubt that microscopy sheds: "moults - the cast-off exoskeleton of Fluffy the tarantula and scanning electron microscopy"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...


Found it, fixed it, thanks!

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