Airflow elicits a spider's jump towards airborne prey. I. Airflow around a flying blowfly

Christian Klopsch, Hendrik C. Kuhlmann, Friedrich G. Barth


The hunting spider Cupiennius salei uses airflow generated by flying insects for the guidance of its prey-capture jump. We investigated the velocity field of the airflow generated by a freely flying blowfly close to the flow sensors on the spider's legs. It shows three characteristic phases (I–III). (I) When approaching, the blowfly induces an airflow signal near the spider with only little fluctuation (0.013 ± 0.006 m s−1) and a strength that increases nearly exponentially with time (maximum: 0.164 ± 0.051 m s−1 s.d.). The spider detects this flow while the fly is still 38.4 ± 5.6 mm away. The fluctuation of the airflow above the sensors increases linearly up to 0.037 m s−1 with the fly's altitude. Differences in the time of arrival and intensity of the fly signal at different legs probably inform the spider about the direction to the prey. (II) Phase II abruptly follows phase I with a much higher degree of fluctuation (fluctuation amplitudes: 0.114 ± 0.050 m s−1). It starts when the fly is directly above the sensor and corresponds to the time-dependent flow in the wake below and behind the fly. Its onset indicates to the spider that its prey is now within reach and triggers its jump. The spider derives information on the fly's position from the airflow characteristics, enabling it to properly time its jump. The horizontal velocity of the approaching fly is reflected by the time of arrival differences (ranging from 0.038 to 0.108 s) of the flow at different legs and the exponential velocity growth rate (16–79 s−1) during phase I. (III) The air flow velocity decays again after the fly has passed the spider.

  • Received March 7, 2012.
  • Accepted April 10, 2012.
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