What is a wheel spider?

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The wheel spider is an incredibly unique creature found in the Namib Desert of southern Africa. Also called the golden or dancing spider, the white spider evades predators by burying itself in the sand or curling itself into a ball and somersaulting across the sand dunes at remarkable speed. The spider’s main predator is the parasitic pompylid wasp.

Typically, spiders are expected to be found where there is vegetation or other structures to build webs to capture their prey. The spider wheel is among some of the more than 400,000 species of spiders that do not build webs. They are nocturnal hunters, which means they hunt at night, and their prey is insects, which inject venom. Spider venom is not considered harmful to humans, however.

Typical wheel spiders are about three-quarters of an inch (20 mm) in diameter. They are also called dancing white spiders because of their color. The spider camouflages itself against the sand dunes through its unique off-white color, merging with the sand around it. The species name is carparachne aureoflava and it is among a family of so-called hunting spiders, also called giant crab spiders because of their appearance.

During the day, this spider rests mainly protected from predators inside a burrow that digs into the sand. The burrow can extend more than 15 inches (40 cm) below the surface of the sand. During the process, the spider surprisingly lifts over 80,000 times its own body weight to dig its burrow.

The wheel spider gets its name because of its technique for avoiding predators. He rolls into a ball and throws himself on a sand dune. Rolling at an astonishing speed of up to 44 laps per second, the spider can outrun a wasp. It then tries to bury itself in another hole before hunting again at night.

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The main predator of this spider is the parasitic pompylid wasp, commonly called the spider wasp. The pompylid wasp is a solitary wasp that uses the spider as a host to feed its larvae. The spider is paralyzed by the wasp’s sting and taken to another inconspicuous place where a nest already exists, or where it will build one. There, the wasp will lay an egg in the spider’s abdomen, which is still alive, and the egg will eventually turn into another wasp. The spider dies at some point in this process.

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