Scientists have found a spider family that can snap their jaws shut faster than their muscles can allow, which makes them the spiders with the fastest jaws in the world. This is the way the newly-discovered type of arachnid hunts its prey.
Known as trap-jaw spiders or Chilarchaea quellon, the creatures belong to a superfamily with a bizarre anatomy that has evolved to make them more effective when hunting. The study on the spiders was published in the Current Biology journal last Thursday and explores the causes of the anatomical change in the arachnids.
According to lead author Hannah Wood, who is a scientist at the Smithsonian, the little spider simply waits to detect the movement of their prey. Next, they start stalking the unfortunate creature by using their first legs as antennae, waving them around on both the ground and in the air. She further explained that
“When they’re in close proximity to the prey, they open their chelicerae and hold them open while they’re searching. When the prey is close enough, the chelicerae snap closed.”
The chelicerae are mouth parts similar to jaws that are highly maneuverable and have different roles for various spider families. For instance, the pelican spiders use them to attack from a distance. However, they never evolved to develop the power of trap-jaws to close their jaws at lightning speed, named by scientists Mecysmaucheniidae.
Researchers plan to understand the whole process, including the source of their energy and how it is released in such a burst of power that surpasses the one of muscles. Wood has compared it with a rubber band that is pulled back and then quickly flicks forward.
However, the whole case is quite mysterious. Trap-jaws were only found in the wild with prey in their jaws five times. None of these had the powerful ability to amplify their capability. The prey they were discovered consuming consisted of other spiders, a trend that is common in this superfamily composed of pelicans, trap-jaws and three other.
Back in the laboratory, Wood has noticed that only spiders with power amplification were willing to eat springtails, as opposed to those without the ability that feasted upon flies. This is a clear proof that the trap-jaws have evolved in order to catch fast-moving prey.
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