Using kinematic and mechanical experiments, we have shown how fisher spiders, Dolomedes triton (Araneae, Pisauridae), can generate horizontal propulsive forces using their legs. This horizontal thrust is provided primarily by the drag of the leg and its associated dimple as both move across the water surface. Less important sources of resistance are surface tension and bow waves. The relative contributions of drag, surface tension and bow waves were examined in several different ways. In one experiment, we measured the forces acting on a leg segment as water flowed past it in non-turbulent flow; the bow wave was not present at leg relative velocities below 0.2ms-1 and thus cannot play a role in thrust production at low leg speeds. In a second experiment, we varied the surface tension by altering the concentration of ethanol from 0% to 9% in the experimental water tank. At a constant dimple depth, force varied little with changes in surface tension, a result consistent with the hypothesis that drag is the primary source of resistance. In addition, however, as surface tension decreased from 0.072 to 0.064Nm-1, the power exponent of the relationship between force and velocity (as measured by the exponent of the power function relating the two variables) increased; at lower surface tensions, down to 0.054Nm-1, the power exponent of the relationship between force and velocity decreased. These results suggest an influence of surface tension (albeit still secondary to drag) in generating horizontal resistance to leg movement. We also measured flow disturbance in the water downstream from a leg segment and confirmed that, even at velocities well below 0.2ms-1, the leg-cum-dimple transferred momentum to the water, which is a clear indication that drag is a contributor to the resistance encountered by a spider's leg. Finally, modeling the leg-cum-dimple as a circular cylinder generates values of drag that account for 75­98% of the measured leg force when the dimple is 0 or 1mm deep. These results not only elucidate the primary mechanism of propulsion for D. triton and other similar-sized arthropods, such as adult water striders (Gerridae), but also suggest that the formerly enigmatic locomotion of very small water-walking organisms (e.g. first-instar water striders) can be understood in the same way.

This content is only available via PDF.