A Big Ass Spider from 'Big Ass Spider!'

These Necrobotic Zombie Spiders are Horrifying, but Also Kind of Fascinating

They're comin' to getcha!

Ha ha ha, we’re all doomed! The worst possible future has finally arrived! We’re officially living in a hellscape of the damned! How do I know? Because scientists have figured out how to turn spider corpses into zombie robots. Wheeee!

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The new technique, which scientists are calling “necrobotics” (H.P Lovecraft couldn’t come up with something this good) involves manipulating the legs of dead spiders to grab things and pick them up. Engineering researchers at Rice University in Texas figured out that the limbs of spiders are basically hydraulic systems. According to the published research paper, spider legs have flexor muscles that allow them to curl their legs inward, but they don’t have muscles to extend their legs back out. Instead, spiders use blood pressure to push against the flexor muscles. When spiders die, there’s no longer any blood pressure acting against the flexors, so the legs curl inward permanently.

Most of us see a curled up dead spider and think blech. But these scientists thought, “Ah ha! It’s our supervillain origin story!”

The researchers glued syringes to the spiders’ leg joints, and then injected air into the joints to turn the spiders into little pneumatic grippers. Then they went on a gripping bender, picking up beads, cubes, circuit board parts, and even other dead spiders.

Of course, any experiment that looks like something out of a Mary Shelley novel begs the question: what on earth would you use this for? In an interview with The Daily Beast, lead researcher Faye Yap said that “because the necrobotic gripper has inherent compliance and camouflaging capabilities, we envision that we can deploy it in scientific fieldwork. For example, to capture and collect small insects and other live specimens without damaging them.” Apparently the spiders are also super strong, picking up objects up to 130% of their own body weight. They’re also biodegradable, and easier to fabricate than synthetic grippers (since, you know, nature has already done most of the work).

Here’s the bad news, though. The researchers don’t just hunt around in their closets for dead spiders every time they want to make a necrobot. They take perfectly good living spiders, who are just eating pests and weaving webs and doing their funky spider thang, and freeze them to death. If you’re the type of person who squashes spiders on sight, then that knowledge won’t move you. But if you’re like me, and you lovingly place each wayward spider in your house outside with a gentle kiss on its little forehead,* then necrobotics raises some ethical issues.

If you’re okay with that, though—or if you’re willing to rummage around in your garage for spider bodies—you could make the world’s tiniest, creepiest claw grab machine.


*Actually I make my partner do this. Not sure if he kisses them, although I did once hear him call a spider “buddy.”

(image: Epic Pictures)


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Author
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>