Researchers at Rice University in Houston have discovered how to give dead spiders new life.
It turns out that all you need is a needle, glue and a syringe.
Daniel Preston, a professor, and Faye Yap, a graduate student, at the University of Texas Technical School published a report in a science journal Monday about how their research team successfully repurposed dead spiders as miniature grabbers, not unlike those in the arcade claw machines.
“We were moving some equipment in the lab and a graduate student, Faye, noticed a dead spider,” Preston told USA TODAY. “We saw that it was all rolled up, the legs were curled inwards. We were curious why that was.”
Then Preston and Yap learned about the different mechanics of spiders, which hydraulically control their legs.
How do researchers check a dead spider’s legs?
Unlike humans, who have antagonistic muscle pairs (think biceps), spiders rely solely on flexors that can only move their legs inward, the report said. According to the report, the spider generates hydraulic pressure to move its legs.
“When a spider dies, the pressure no longer opposes the flexor muscles, causing the spider’s legs to curl inward, as is often seen in deceased house spiders,” the report says.
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Preston and Yap were able to convert the dead spiders in their research into miniature “necrobotic” grippers by pumping small amounts of air into their bodies.
They simply inserted a hypodermic needle into the spider’s body, sealed it with glue, and attached the needle to a syringe, controlling the flow of pressure into the spider’s body and through its legs.
Open. Close to. Open. Close to. No special laboratory equipment required.
What is the potential use of dead spider grabs?
While the research is still in its infancy, Preston said the dead spider grabs have potential for real-world applications in “micro-scale manipulation,” such as picking up small electronic components.
“We also look forward to the potential of using this for fieldwork, where the intrinsic compliance of the fluidic gripping mechanism allows us to handle fragile or delicate samples,” Preston said. “And maybe even live insects or other insects that we want to obtain in the field work.”
The wolf spiders used in the study were able to grab 130% of their own mass, according to the report. But Preston said he was excited about the prospect of using smaller spiders.
“We realized from some math scaling that small spiders actually work better. They have a higher ratio of grip strength to gripper weight,” Preston said.
Preston’s team said in its report that its grippers were an eco-friendly alternative to man-made grippers because they are naturally biodegradable. The grippers tested were good for 1,000 grips before they started to show wear from drying out, according to the report, which hypothesized that the durability of the spider grippers could be extended by applying a special coating.
What’s next? Preston told USA TODAY that he hopes to do more research to find out how dead spiders can crawl.