*Everything you always wanted to know about feet but were afraid to ask

26 April 2021 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Wildlife
*Everything you always wanted to know about feet but were afraid to ask
Little Egret Tom Lee

WildCall Officer Charlotte Owen tiptoes around some fantastic creature feet facts 

How many legs does a millipede have? 

It may seem like a trick question but the answer is not 1,000. 

The name millipede does derive from the Latin for ‘a thousand feet’ but the only species to come anywhere close to this number is the millipede Illacme plenipes, which has up to 750 and is the world’s leggiest animal. Incidentally, its Latin name means ‘in highest fulfilment of feet’. 

Millipede©Victoria HumeSussex Wildlife Trust

© Victoria Hume

Most millipedes have far fewer legs - generally between 40 and 400 – and they are arranged in two pairs per body segment. This is one feature that distinguishes them from their close relatives the centipedes, which have only one pair of legs per body segment - and they never add up to 100! A centipede always has an odd number of pairs of legs, and British species generally have 15 to 101 pairs – so 30 to 202 legs.

That's neat that's neat that's neat that's neat, I really love your spider feet

Spiders can famously walk on walls, ceilings and pretty much any other surface - though many are defeated by bath tubs. They can do this thanks to tiny hairs on their feet, which are in turn covered in even tinier hairs, giving them incredible grip.

Jumping Spider©Matthew HamerSussex Wildlife Trust

© Matthew Hamer

Why don’t spiders get stuck in their own webs?

A spider’s web is made of silk, and while the exact design will vary by species the overall function is the same: a sticky net to trap unsuspecting prey. But not all of the silk strands are actually sticky and a typical web is constructed from several different types of silk. 

The silk is produced in special ‘spinneret glands’ located at the tip of the spider’s abdomen, and each gland produces a different type of silk that will be used for a particular purpose. A spider will start its web with extra-strong ‘structural’ silk to create the basic framework and anchor the web firmly to its surroundings with blobs of a tough, cement-like silk. Then the radial strands are added, like the spokes on a bicycle wheel, and these are spun from a third type of silk that’s extra stretchy so it can withstand the impact of a colliding fly without breaking. When the spokes are complete, the spider weaves a spiral out of the same kind of silk before repeating its spiral with sticky ‘capture’ silk to complete its deadly trap. 

Wasp Spider©Nigel SymingtonSussex Wildlife Trust

Wasp spider © Nigel Symington

A spider can move effortlessly through its own web, diligently testing its threads or racing towards a freshly-caught fly, with no fear of getting stuck thanks to a few clever adaptations. Only the very tips of its legs make contact with the silk and an arrangement of dense, bristly hairs beneath the main claws help to minimise the area that actually comes into contact with the glue, so that even a sticky thread is easily detached.

Why do Little Egrets have bright yellow feet?

This little white heron is a fairly recent addition to our shores, having first arrived around twenty years ago, but it’s now a familiar sight in river valleys, marshy wetlands, estuaries, lakes and wet fields. It is an elegant bird with a slender, black bill and long, black legs – but as it wades carefully through the water you’ll catch a glimpse of surprisingly bright yellow toes, as if it has slipped on a pair of Marigolds. 

It’s thought that these yellow feet provide an advantage when hunting, and the little egret has a unique approach. It is the only European heron to specialise on small prey, usually nothing more than a couple of inches in length, and this requires a more active hunting technique than the stand-and-wait approach favoured by the larger grey heron, whose endless patience is eventually rewarded by a much bigger meal. Little egrets are more often on the move, wading through the shallows with slow, deliberate steps but frequently pausing to extend one leg underwater and shake it rapidly. This stirs up the mud and exposes any hidden prey – small fish, amphibians and invertebrates – so that the little egret can strike with its stabbing bill.  Yellow feet are more visible than black feet amongst the murky stirred-up sediment, making them more effective at forcing potential prey out of hiding.

*maybe not everything, but do feel free to ask us anything!

Comments

  • Gloria horwell:

    29 Apr 2021 14:32:00

    I saw the first Egrets here in Frogmorev Devon estuary 20 years ago and was so excited. They started nesting in a group on the Salcombe estuary the following year and there are now many.

  • Elizabeth Strowlger:

    29 Apr 2021 14:55:00

    Between about 1950 and 1965 I distinctly remember seeing little egrets in the creeks off the Helford River in Cornwall on several occasions This was known to local people, but never seems to have been recorded officially. I don’t know when or if the colony died out there.
    Elizabeth Strowlger

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