VSL:SCIENCE // Meet Mother Nature’s answer to the dune buggy

Scientists know about three spiders that roll, rather than walk, down sand dunes. Now they’ve found one that propels itself with handsprings.

Araneus rota, or the rolling Sahara spider, was discovered by a Berlin Technical University bionics engineer named Ingo Rechenberg. Rechenberg, who was searching the Sahara for natural phenomena that might be applied to engineering problems, noticed the spider when it rolled across his flashlight beam: The palm-size arachnid gets a running start and flings itself into a continuous cartwheel, which can move it along at almost 5 mph. Rechenberg’s studying that motion now as a possible model for vehicles designed to move across the surface of Mars.

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