As far as newly discovered creatures go, the story of the Cebrennus rechenbergi is more fascinating than most. First, there's the way in which researchers figured out the spider, native to the Morocco's southeastern desert, was unique from a similar species found in Tunisia and Algeria: by closely assessing their sex organs.
But it's the spider's unusual movement—which the New York Times reports brought the bionics expert who discovered it to tears—that sets it apart. It can essentially flip like a gymnast: It briefly sprints, uses its front legs to propel itself in the air, lands on its hind legs, and repeats, in a series of "flic-flac jumps." The maneuver isn't how the nocturnal spider regularly gets around though: It's used only when the creature needs to flee a predator, explains Peter Jäger, the German spider expert who identified it and published his findings in Zootaxa.
That's because while the move provides huge speed upsides (allowing the spider to move 6.6 feet per second, rather than its typical 3.3-feet-per-second walking pace), there's a pretty big downside: "It is a costly move," says Jäger.
"If it performs this five to 10 times within one day, then it dies." In a press release picked up by ScienceDaily on the find, Jäger points out that these movements top those of the golden rolling spider, which can only roll while moving downhill; Cebrennus rechenbergi can flic-flac up a hill—and do a back flip as well.
Scientific American reports there are a few other animals that can "cartwheel" their way to safety, including the larvae of the southeastern beach tiger beetle and the American mantis shrimp.
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