Background: For males of several terrestrial spiders the reproductive success depends to their locomotors performances. However, their mechanics of locomotion has been scarcely investigated. Aim of this work was to describe the gait patterns, analyse the gait parameters, the mechanics of locomotion and the energy saving mechanisms of Eupalaestrus weijenberghi (Araneae, Theraphosidae) on different inclinations and surfaces.
Methods: Tarantulas were collected and marked for kinematic analysis. Free displacements, both at level and on incline, were recorded using two different experimental surfaces: glass and Teflon. Body segments of the experimental animals have been measured, weighted and their centre of mass experimentally determined. Through the reconstruction of trajectories of the body segments, we estimate the mechanical internal and external works and analysed the gait patterns.
Results: Four gait patterns have been described, but spiders mainly employed a walk-trot-like gait. Significant differences between the first two pairs and the second two pairs were detected. No significant differences were detected among different planes or surfaces in duty factor, time lags, stride frequency and stride length. However, postural changes were observed on slippery surfaces. The mechanical work at level was lower than expected. In all conditions, the external work, and within it the vertical work, accounted for almost all the total mechanical work. The internal work was extremely low, and did not increase with gradient.
Discussion: Our results support the idea of the two quadrupeds in series: the anterior composed by the first two pairs of limbs, with more explorative and steering purpose, and the posterior more involved in supporting the body weight. The mechanical work to move one unit mass a unit distance is almost constant among the different species. However spiders show lower values than expected. Minimizing the mechanical work could help to limit the metabolic energy expenditure that, in small animals, is relatively very high. However, the energy recovery due to the inverted pendulum mechanics only account for a small part of energy saving. Adhesive setae present in the tarsal, scopulae and claw tufts, would participate in different ways during different moments of the step cycle, compensating part of the energetic cost on gradient, and helping to maintain constant the gait parameters.