Huge Whip Spiders Wear Nail Polish for Science

“You can only describe the tropical whip spider as evolution’s perfect design for an arthropod killing machine,” says Verner Bingman, a behavioral neuroscientist and National Geographic grantee.

While whip spiders are arachnids that fall under the arthropod phylum, they’re not actually spiders. Whip spiders have eight legs, but the front two have evolved into antenniform legs that extend up to two feet long. These legs wiggle around like whips to gather sensory information, earning whip spiders their name. The arachnids also have appendages called pedipalps, which Bingman describes as being like “pliers with sharp teeth.”

“They’re these kind-of serrated blades that the whip spiders use to clasp and crush its prey,” he says. “They have remarkable weaponry for killing.”

Despite his chilling description of this creature that looks like it just walked out of a nightmare, Bingman and his colleague Daniel Wiegmann, spend their nights catching whip spiders by hand because the scientists are so fascinated by the animal’s remarkable navigational abilities. At the La Suerte Biological Field Station in Costa Rica, the team placed radio transmitters on whip spiders and then moved the arachnids ten meters from their home tree to a location where they had never been before. The transmitters fell off the next time the whip spiders shed their exoskeletons but, before then, Bingman and Wiegmann came back and found that each whip spider had returned to almost exactly the same spot on the tree from which it had been removed.

The dense rainforest is a challenge for humans to navigate, let alone whip spiders. Verner explains, “I can’t impress upon you enough how nasty it is walking through this crap. It’s dark, the ground is uneven, you go up, you down, there are tree limbs. You’re tripping, you’re falling, it’s rainy, it’s muddy, there are puddles, there are obstacles everywhere. —> Read More