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What Is a Wheel Spider?

By Kathy Heydasch
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A wheel spider is an amazingly unique creature found in the Namib Desert in southern Africa. Also called a golden wheel spider or a dancing white lady spider, the wheel spider evades predators by burrowing into the sand or by rolling itself into a ball and cartwheeling down sand dunes at a remarkable speed. The spider's primary predator is the parasitic pompilid wasp.

One typically expects to find spiders where there is vegetation or other structures in which to build webs to capture prey. The wheel spider is among some of the more than 400,000 spider species which do not build webs. They are nocturnal hunters, which means they hunt at night, and their prey is insects, which they inject with venom. The spider's venom is not considered to be harmful to humans, however.

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

During the day, this spider rests mostly protected from predators within a burrow it digs in the sand. The burrow can extend more than 15 inches (40 cm) below the surface of the sand. During the process, the spider astoundingly lifts more than 80,000 times its own body weight to dig the burrow.

The wheel spider is so named because of its technique to avoid predators. It rolls into a ball and flings itself down a sand dune. Rolling at an astounding rate of as much as 44 turns per second, the spider can outrun a wasp. It then attempts to burrow itself into another hole before hunting again at night.

The primary predator of this spider is the parasitic pompilid wasp, commonly called a spider wasp. The pompilid wasp is a solitary wasp which uses the spider as a host for feeding its larvae. The spider is paralyzed by the wasp's stinger and taken to another inconspicuous location where there is already a nest, or where it will build one. There, the wasp will lay an egg on the abdomen of the spider, 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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Discussion Comments
By Talentryto — On Jul 04, 2014

A good comparison to the wheel spider is the pill bug that is readily found in America. This little bug also rolls up into a ball when threatened, just like the wheel spider.

By Spotiche5 — On Jul 03, 2014

I watched a documentary about the wheel spider, and it is one of the most fascinating arachnids I've ever seen. This article also provides a good account of what these creatures are actually like.

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