A paper in Zootaxa describes a new species of spider, Cebrennus rechenbergi, the only spider that is able to move by means of flic-flac jumps. 

The nocturnal spider Cebrennus rechenbergi lives in the sand desert Erg Chebbi in southeastern Morocco, not far from the Algerian border.

With its feelers and specialized, elongated bristles, Cebrennus rechenbergi creates a tube-like domicile in the sand, attached by silk threads, which offers protection from the sun and predators. The spider’s most outstanding talent, however, is its ability to move by means of flic-flac jumps. Unlike its relative from Namibia, the golden rolling spider, which is restricted to passively rolling down sand dunes, the flic-flac spider uses its legs to create a rolling motion. 

The flic-flac spider Cebrennus rechenbergi at home. © Prof. Dr. Rechenberg

 Like a gymnast, it propels itself off the ground, followed by a series of rapid flic-flac movements of its legs. This gives the spider great flexibility – uphill, downhill or on level ground, Cebrennus rechenbergi can move along with ease. It displays this behavior when provoked, e.g., by a congener, a camel spider, a scorpion or a human. 

At almost 2 meters per second, the flic-flac jumps allow the spider to move twice as fast as in simple walking mode.

A model for spider robots

Jäger named the flic-flac spider after the scientist Prof. Dr. Ingo Rechenberg from Berlin. The bionics expert discovered Cebrennus rechenbergi during an expedition in Morocco and passed it on to Jäger for taxonomic determination. Rechenberg was so inspired by the flic-flac spider’s ingenious mode of locomotion that he developed a 25cm long model of a spider robot.

The Tabbot, named after “Tabacha” (the word for spider in the Berber language), can move by walking as well as by turning somersaults. “This robot may be employed in agriculture, on the ocean floor or even on Mars,” according to its inventor.

The spider robot Tabbot. Size: 25 cm. © Prof. Dr. Rechenberg

Through morphological examination, Jäger was able to determine that the flic-flac spider really constitutes a new species. Based on minute differences in their sex organs, he was able to distinguish Cebrennus rechenbergi from the closely related species Cebrennus villosus in Tunisia. “However, the unique mode of locomotion also serves as a criterion to distinguish the species,” says Jäger.

Taxonomic and systematic research forms the strongest core competence at the Senckenberg Research Institutes. New methods, such as genetic analyses, can be combined with traditional approaches and aid in the identification of new species. Dr. Peter Jäger explains, “It is our goal to record and preserve the diversity of all life on our planet, i.e., the biodiversity.”

Citation: Jäger, Peter: Cebrennus Simon, 1880 (Araneae: Sparassidae): a revisionary up-date with the description of four new species and an updated identification key for all species. Zootaxa, [S.l.], v. 3790, n. 2, p. 319–356, http://biotaxa.org/Zootaxa/article/view/zootaxa.3790.2.4