July 5, 2015

Stand by for an arachnid invasion

OH DEAR LORD, here we go again. As if sharks and octopuses and giant squid and sea snakes and poisonous puffer fish weren’t enough to scare the pants off us, now scientists are telling us that spiders inhabit the oceans of the world, too.

Worse still, they know how to sail. In a new study published in the journal Evolutionary Biology, researchers claim that spiders use their legs to harness the wind so that they can sail just like a yacht.

“We’ve now found that spiders actively adopt postures that allow them to use the wind direction to control their journey on the water,” explained Morito Hayashi, of the Natural History Museum, in London.

The spiders take on postures described as elaborate and acrobatic, raising and contorting their legs in different directions and angles to take advantage of the breeze. (Sounds an awful lot like my old crew trying to raise the spinnaker.)

What’s more, they even use sea anchors to heave to whenever they want. They simply spin a bundle of silk and pay it out on a long line.

The British researchers conducted their experiments with 325 adult spiders collected from small coastal islands, where they presumably had plenty of time and space to practice their yachting skills. So if you’re out sailing and you hear a tiny voice scream “Starboard!” at you, for goodness’ sake go about at once.

And next time you feel something move on your bare leg during the midnight watch out at sea, check to see if it’s a wolf spider, or a black widow. I don’t want to panic you, but you’d better make your will because you’ve got about half an hour to live.

Today’s Thought
 The mere apprehension of a coming peril has put many into a situation of the utmost danger.
— Lucan, De Bello Civili

“And what is your name, my good man?”
“James, madam.”
“I’m not accustomed to calling my chauffeurs by their first names. What is your last name?”
“Darling, madam.”
“Very well, drive on, James.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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