Photograph by Stefan Sollfors, Science Faction/Corbis
Published June 2, 2011
Scientists may have uncovered why spiders are so creepy-crawly—they have more legs than they need, a new study says.
After collecting thousands of female spiders in the wild, scientists found that more than 10 percent of the arachnids were missing at least one of their eight legs.
"We wondered if this was handicapping them in any way," said study co-author Alain Pasquet at the University of Nancy 1 in France.
The research team placed 123 Zygiella x-notata spiders in individual plastic boxes, where the animals could build webs. Sixty of the spiders were eight-legged, while 63 were each missing one or more legs. (See spider-web pictures.)
Pasquet and his colleagues found that webs built by spiders missing at least one leg did not differ much from the webs built by spiders that were intact.
Six-Legged Spiders Still Good Hunters
The scientists then placed flies in the enclosures and found that leg-lacking spiders were also perfectly capable of catching and eating the insects.
"We were really surprised—we expected missing a leg to harm the spiders' ability to catch food, and it didn't at all," Pasquet said.
Based on the findings, the authors propose that spiders have legs that they don't really need—an advantage when it comes to escaping a predator that's put the bite on a limb, for example.
Yet there does appear to be a limit to how many legs a spider can lose. In the wild, the team found few spiders missing more than two legs. And in the lab, these five-legged spiders built shoddy webs.
Spider-legs study published in a recent issue of the journal Naturwissenschaften.
How to Feed Our Growing Planet
National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.
The Innovators Project
After achieving nuclear fusion at age 14, Taylor, now 19, is working with subatomic particles for solutions to nuclear terrorism and cancer.
Larvae attract more larvae, but not if they don’t have any bacteria. by Ed Yong
Latest News Video
The nation's most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen is taking a 2,000-mile road trip from Montana to its new home in Washington, D.C.