The 6 Real and Terrifying Spider Superpowers
It's hard to be scared of spiders, because no matter how many legs they have, at the end of the day, look at how much bigger you are. The size of your feet will always trump the amount of poison they may have stored up in their tiny bodies. They're not superheroes or anything.
In reality, spiders are more like Spider-Man than we think. Though they have yet to master the make-out session, they have racked up some other pretty crazy abilities. Such as ...
Have you ever seen a prison break movie where the prisoner tosses a few pillows under his blanket and makes it look like he's still sleeping, when in fact he's tunneling out? It sounds crazy, but some spiders have apparently seen those movies. There's no other explanation.
Some spiders, incredibly, have been observed taking dead bugs and webs and constructing life-size models of themselves to distract predatory wasps.
Apparently they'll let just anybody fly one of these.
To defend themselves, orb spiders build body doubles out of bug corpses and silk. To us it looks like bundles of junk have cluttered up their webs, but to predators those lumps of moldering insect pieces look just like lunch. That's because orb spiders, like all spiders, have bodies that reflect ultraviolet rays. By wrapping up bundles of trash with UV webbing, orb spiders are creating decoys that are not only the same size, but also the same color. The dummy spiders are such a good distraction that wasps will attack the wrong target 60 percent of the time. They're basically guessing.
Totally not creepy and disturbing at all.
Possibly even more unusual, the common garden spider has been known to trick insects into thinking its web is a flower. It turns out that flowers give bees and other insects explicit instructions on where to find the good stuff. They use UV coloring to highlight their nectar snatch. Striations in their petals that botanists describe as a "bull's-eye pattern" guide pollinators exactly where they need to go. It's like landing lights for bugs.
"Be the flower, Frank. Be the flower.
The garden spider, who must have Googled "striations" and "bull's-eye pattern," just like we did, produces a special type of nonadhesive silk and weaves it into its web. The zigzag patterns act like a neon beacon for the innocent buglings, guiding them in to their deaths. How effective are the spiders' deadly decorations? Research shows that they catch 50 percent more insects with their evil artwork than without. It's like a lion's den built to look like a Denny's.
In the movies, heroes and villains will often use exotic weapons like whips and chains, spinning them around with deft skill. But that's the movies -- nobody uses these things in real life. Unless it's a bolas spider, however; that thing will Indiana Jones you in the face.
"Anybody got a tissue?"
The bolas spider is a night hunter that uses webbing to catch its prey, like most spiders, but with a unique twist: It produces a cord of silk with a sticky glob of glue weighing down one end. This spider makes a lasso, or bolas, that it twirls around with one of its spindly legs to fling at passing moths. It's like fishing for pterodactyls with a bungee cord and a grappling hook.
To lure the moths in, the bolas spider can produce the pheromones that sexy female moths give off (so yes, only the males get eaten). And not just one type of moth, either. Researchers discovered that at different times the spider will produce different chemicals to call to the moth species that is currently active. When they get close enough ...
And to be even more deceptive, some bolas spiders have eye spots on their backs to mimic the face of the moths they hunt. Just like picking a woman up at a bar in Miami, it's a sexy smell and a pretty face, and then you're dead.
"No, really, I'm just down from Orlando for the weekend ..."
Toxic Web Shooter
Spiders can bring the battle to their enemies from a distance; in fact, spiders have evolved multiple types of missile attacks. The green lynx spider, for example, is known to spit venom like a freaking cobra. This half-inch-long spider can hurl venom about 5 inches, or roughly 10 times its body length. Though the poison isn't fatal to humans, there's at least one report of a soldier taking a squirt to the eye and being blinded for two days.
The spitting spider does things differently: It can actually fire sticky silk out of its fangs. Not just its backside (after all, most spiders shoot their webs out of their spider butts), but out of its very mouth. Yes, web shooters actually exist.
"Spider-Man is a hack."
At a range of less than half an inch, it doesn't have the reach of the green lynx spider, but then again, spewing a Kevlar net from your mouth is probably a tad more difficult. As if this weren't unusual enough, the webbing is venomous. In effect, this means that the spider doesn't have to bite you; all it needs to do is put you in contact with its bodily fluids and then it can watch you die slowly under a net of poison glue.
To make sure the prey is subdued, because everyone knows that spraying you in the face with poison is just child's play, spitting spiders have been observed swaying in a Z pattern while they fire, maximizing the spray. It's your standard Super Soaker rules.
And they look like walking skulls. Just in case you weren't sure if they were evil incarnate.
Not all spiders laze the day away in a fortress of adhesive webbing, surrounded by the dying screams of mummified insects. Some actually go out and hunt for a living. And while you've got to be fast to catch prey, you've got to be even faster to escape predators.
Enter the golden wheel spider, which has a special defense to escape its erstwhile archnemesis: cartwheels.
It might not be the most dignified or manly escape method, but it is effective. "Taking advantage of the steep slip-faces of the dunes it lives on, when threatened, the golden wheel spider will curl its legs around its body to make a ball." It will then basically tire roll down the slope to safety.
The damn things can transform. It's a spider with a friggin vehicle mode! The enemies can only shake their fists at the sky while the daredevil spider drunkenly staggers away in victory to puke his guts out.
Grasshoppers, beetles and spiders all have something in common: They crunch when you smash them. That's because they're covered in chitin. Insects, arachnids, crustaceans and lots of other creatures have exoskeletons composed of this material -- it's the bug equivalent of bone, only it's on the outside.
If people had these, we wouldn't need police. Or locks.
To kill its prey, a spider has to get through this armor. And since spiders are composed of the same stuff, their fangs are also made of chitin ... which is a problem. To pierce an object, your blade has to be harder than the substance you're going through. Scientists, wondering how spiders dealt with this quandary, looked at the fangs of the feared Brazilian wandering spider, one of the deadliest arachnids in the world.
The man in this picture is already dead.
Chemical analysis and X-ray detection showed that their fangs have metal atoms dispersed throughout, mainly copper, magnesium, iron and zinc. The metals accumulate each time the spiders molt, meaning that older spiders have harder fangs.
Biometals in bugs isn't new; leafcutter ants have a small percentage of zinc in their mandibles. But amazingly enough, almost no chitin was found in the tips of wandering spider fangs. The points, which have to endure the most stress, were composed almost entirely of metal. They literally have evolved hypodermic needles for fangs. Wandering spiders have metallically reinforced poison-injecting blades built into their faces.
Because plain ol' poison-injecting blades weren't nearly terrifying enough.
Bionic Ninja Legs
In the pantheon of superpowers, one normally doesn't put "super legs" at the top. At first blush, it would seem fairly unlikely that this would ever be useful.
But in reality, spider legs have a number of incredible adaptations. Spiders are designed for crawling, climbing, skittering and all-around creepiness. Jumping, not so much. Leaping about is more the domain of muscular-legged bugs like crickets and grasshoppers. Which is why it's all the more amazing that the spider known as Portia fimbriata can essentially catapult itself at prey.
It can hurl itself up to 50 times its own body length (if you did it, it would be about 300 feet, or the length of a football field). That's farther than most grasshoppers can hop.
Suck it, grasshopper.
This is essentially what it would look like if humans could jump as far as the Portia spider (skip to the 35-second mark). More impressively, this ability doesn't even stem from unusually strong leg muscles. Instead they have hydraulic-powered legs that launch them like pistons. Somehow this much compressed power doesn't blow their little spider legs off, but research has shown that they would be OK if it did. Certain spiders can hunt just as well with six legs as with eight. They've got spares ... which in some species even grow back.
But the most amazing ability found in spider legs goes to the tarantula, which logic would dictate is far too large to do things like walk up a wall.
Incredibly, they have micro spinnerets on the bottom of their feet (not that spiders have feet, but looking up the scientific term for spider stumps sounds too much like work). To walk up walls, they can actually shoot small amounts of webbing out of their feet to stick, which helps them adhere to nearly any surface, including glass. Where most spiders rely on tiny fibers on their hands to gain traction, spiders like the tarantula are busy out-climbing Ethan Hunt.
"C'mon, slowpoke. What kind of space wizard are you?"
You can check out Monte Richard's twisted comics at Real Toy Gun.
For more reasons to distrust spiders, check out 6 Adorable Spider Behaviors You Slowly Realize Are AAAAAHHH! Or learn about 7 Real Insect Superpowers That Put Spidey Sense to Shame.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Most Baffling PSA Ever: Vote Like ... Spider-Man?