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Limping following limb loss increases locomotor stability [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Simon Wilshin, Paul S. Shamble, Kyle J. Hovey, Ryan Harris, Andrew J. Spence, and S. Tonia Hsieh

Although many arthropods have the ability to voluntarily lose limbs, how these animals rapidly adapt to such an extreme perturbation remains poorly understood. It is thought that moving with certain gaits can enable efficient, stable locomotion; however, switching gaits requires complex information flow between and coordination of an animal’s limbs. We show here that upon losing two legs, spiders can switch to a novel, more statically stable gait, or use temporal adjustments without a gait change. The resulting gaits have higher overall static stability than the gaits that would be imposed by limb loss. By decreasing the time spent in a low-stability configuration—effectively “limping” over less stable phases of the stride—spiders increased the overall stability of the less statically-stable gait with no observable reduction in speed, as compared to the intact condition. Our results shed light on how voluntary limb loss could have persisted evolutionarily among many animals, and provide bioinspired solutions for robots when they break or lose limbs.

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