May 8 (UPI) -- For the first time, scientists have trained a spider to jump at different distances and different heights.
The feat allowed scientists to study the spider's jumping abilities and behavior at great detail using high-speed, high-resolution cameras. The observations could help scientists understand why jumping spiders evolved as they did and inspire a new generation of high-performance micro-robots.
"The focus of the present work is on the extraordinary jumping capability of these spiders," Mostafa Nabawy, a researcher at the University of Manchester in England, said in a news release. "A jumping spider can leap up to six times its body length from a standing start."
Robotics engineers have long looked to the natural world for inspiration -- and to the extraordinary physical abilities found among species big and small.
"The force on the legs at take-off can be up to 5 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," Nabawy said.
Scientists nicknamed the trained spider, a regal jumping spider, Kim.
The high-speed, hi-res videos of Kim revealed the jumping spider's anatomy and mechanics in unprecedented detail. Scientists found the species, Phidippus regius, uses different jumping strategies depending on the type of jump.
In the lab, scientists trained Kim to jump from different-sized platforms and across different-sized gaps.
When faced with shorter, close-range distances, Kim used a higher-intensity jump, maximizing speed and minimizing flight time. The jump proved most precise, making it an ideal jump for ambushing prey.
When attempting to traverse a larger gap or jump for greater heights, Kim used her most energy-efficient jump, taking a higher trajectory with more hang time.
The research, published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests Kim uses a spring-like mechanism and direct muscle forces. It's not clear whether regal jumping spiders use an internal fluid pressure, or a hydraulic force, to enhance their jumping abilities.
"Our results suggest that whilst Kim can move her legs hydraulically, she does not need the additional power from hydraulics to achieve her extraordinary jumping performance," said researcher Bill Crowther. "Thus, the role of hydraulic movement in spiders remains an open question."