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Kiwi spiders wow with lightning-speed jaw

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 7/04/2016

A "drab and tiny" New Zealand spider is fanging it by catching its prey with lightning speed, research has found.

The trap-jaw spider, found only in New Zealand and South America, are small arachnids that hunt for prey on the ground but a particular Kiwi species has one remarkable ability.

High-speed video recordings have revealed that when a tasty insect comes close the spiders snap their jaw shut in a tenth of a millisecond, a hundred times faster than some other trap jaw spiders.

University of Canterbury Associate Professor Ximena Nelson said movement speed and power had never been investigated in spiders before.

Because the spiders were only a few millimetres in size, their skill had never been realised before the high-speed video study, she said.

University of Auckland senior lecturer Dr Greg Holwell said the research showed the first example of a group of spiders using a power-amplified predatory strike.

"Their jaws can strike at prey with more power than would be physically possible using muscle, so some other mechanism must be used."

It was exciting for New Zealand to have the species of trap jaw spider with the fastest jaw, he said.

"These are tiny and cryptic spiders, some less than a millimetre long."

"Although the paper does not discuss what they eat, this lightning strike might allow them to dispatch of their prey efficiently, or possibly tackle larger prey than other spiders their size can manage."

The research has been published in Current Biology.

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