What Does A Spider Web Look Like?

14 of the Most Elaborate Spider Webs Ever Found in Nature

The next time you’re sweeping cobwebs out of the corners, take a moment to appreciate the elaborate designs of these sticky bug-traps.

Orb webs

These circular creations are made by a class of spiders called orb weavers that includes lots of common garden spiders. They adjust their design based on which insects they’re most likely to capture: If they mostly catch flies, they use a tighter weave, and if they’re focused on crickets, the web has to be stronger and stickier so the thrashing bugs can’t break out before the spider can kill it with a bite.

Spider silk production

This golden orbweaver spider has seven kinds of silk glands, and each one creates its own liquid protein (called spidroid). The proteins are solidified and combined in numerous ways to create strands with different uses, and they’re released as silk from six spinnerets. Some types of silk are used for web building, but others are made for egg cases or wrapping up prey. This simple step will keep spiders out of your house.

Arachnid architecture

On most orb webs, the threads that serve as spokes are stiffer and aren’t sticky. Once the structural supports are in place, the spider starts on the outside and spirals inward, attaching each segment of silk and coating the strands with a sticky substance. Once an unlucky bug gets stuck, killed, and wrapped, this design generally maintains its strength, so the spider can make minor repairs rather than having to rebuild from scratch. This is important because web-building uses a huge amount of energy for the spider. (Sometimes they eat the webs they’re done with, in fact.) Don’t miss these exceptionally rare National Geographic photos you won’t be able to get out of your head.

Web decoration

This St. Andrew’s cross spider has gone the extra mile to weave a special pattern, called a stabilimenta, into its web. Researchers aren’t sure why some orb-weaving spiders do this—it could be to camouflage themselves or to look bigger to predators, or to make their webs more visible to creatures (like humans or other animals) that might otherwise accidentally crash through their webs. Scientists also theorize that the decorations reflect ultraviolet light in a way that attracts prey, or they might just help spiders maintain optimal body temperatures. Here’s how to keep these creepy-crawlers and other insects out of your home.

Silk art

Spider researchers (arachnologists) originally thought that stabilimenta added stability to webs, which is how the decorations got their name. But that theory has lost favor in recent years. Spiders might just have extra silk to use up, or maybe it’s just a female spider’s way of attracting a mate. Most male spiders never build webs, but they can spin silk—some use it to wrap up dead bugs as gifts that they offer to females in order to keep from being eaten before they can mate. Next, check out these other bizarre bug facts that will totally freak you out.

One spider’s art is another’s junk

The trashline orbweaver doesn’t have a typical aesthetic sense—it wraps up poop, leftover pieces of prey, and other debris in a straight line. The spider is camouflaged by this collection, and she typically also keeps her egg sacs hidden among the trash, too. Interestingly, these spiders have recently been found to have biological clocks that run naturally on an 18.5-hour cycle, rather than the 24-hour cycle found in every other animal studied, including humans, fruit flies, and hamsters.

Tricky design

A spider found in 2012 in the Peruvian Amazon uses its trash in a more elaborate way, creating what looks like a decoy spider that hangs in its web. The fake spider is about an inch long, and its builder—a tiny spider that’s only about a quarter of an inch long—can shake the web to make the decoy appear to move. Scientists found another decoy-builder in the Philippines the same year, suggesting that the behavior evolved separately in two places that are 11,000 miles apart. Here are more photos of nature’s most bizarre creatures.

See also:  What Does A Brown Widow Spider Look Like?

Electric lines

This feather-legged lace weaver has an unusual method of catching prey: It spins super-tiny strands of silk from an organ called a cribellum that most spiders don’t have. Then it uses special hairs on its back legs to comb the nanoscale filaments of silk, which creates an electrostatic charge that leads the threads to have puffs on them that are very sticky without having any of the gluey substance that typically coats webs of other spiders.

Funnel weavers

Not all spiders build classic orb webs. There are hunters like the wolf spider that don’t build any webs at all and others that create very functional—if less picturesque—webs, like the funnel-weaving spiders. They generally build webs with a flat surface for capturing prey and a tube that leads down to their own comfy burrow. The spider rushes out when it senses that an insect has gotten tangled in its silk and drags it down to its lair to eat. Don’t miss these amazing nature photos you won’t believe are real.

Black widow web

These famously venomous spiders build another variety called a sheet web. It consists of a horizontal sheet of silk supported by threads going up to some support. Underneath, the black widow creates taut threads that hang down to the ground where they’re attached by sticky glue. If an insect bumps into one of these, it detaches from the ground, sticks to the intruder, and leaves it dangling. The spider feels the vibrations through the sheet and heads down for dinner. Find out what other common household items are attracting spiders along with other pests.

A tiny trap

This Nigma walckenaeri spider builds its mesh web on the surface of a leaf; it just needs a curved surface, so it can create a tiny hideout for itself in your garden. Other spider species create webs called the bowl-and-doily: A bowl-shaped web is suspended from plant stems and anchored on the bottom to a horizontal sheet (the doily). Insects flying past bump into a thread and fall into the bowl, where they’re eaten by the spider.

Tossing a net

The ogre-faced spider might be homely, but it has a very special skill set: Rather than building a large web to trap passing prey, it builds a tiny foraging web that it holds in its first two pairs of legs. Then it waits patiently until an insect happens to wander past, and it captures the bug with its net like 1960s-era cartoon Spider-Man catching the Green Goblin. Check out these arrestingly beautiful photos that stand the test of time.

Ballooning

A spider’s silk isn’t just for trapping food. Many species are known to spin sails, catch the wind, and fly off to a new locale. A study found that spiders raise one or two of their front legs to feel the wind speed (and possibly direction) for about six seconds. If it’s too cold and windy, they stay put, but when there’s a warm, gentle breeze, they release silk threads that form a triangular sheet and take off into the sky. This video shows exactly what it looks like.

Strength and stretchiness

Dragline silk, which is what spiders use to hang from ceilings or webs, is several times stronger than steel on a weight-for-weight basis. It’s also stretchable, which is why webs can absorb the impact of flying insects. The venomous brown recluse spider goes a step further, producing filaments that are even tougher than typical spider silk because they spin tiny loops into each strand. Next, check out these 11 stunning photos that will make you appreciate the beauty of life.

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Curious Kids: What are spider webs made from and how strong are they?

Author

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

Disclosure statement

Andrew Walker does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky!

My name is Leo. I am 5 years old and I live in Sydney. My question is: what are spider webs made from and how strong are they? – Leo, 5, Sydney.

Spider webs are made from silk. And silk is made from something scientists call “proteins”.

Proteins are special chemicals made by a living thing — like an animal or a plant. You have lots of them in your body. Proteins usually have a certain job to do.

See also:  What Does A Spider Bite Look Like On A Toddler?

Some join together to make something bigger. Your hair and your nails are made of proteins (they are both made by a protein called “keratin”).

Insects and spiders make silk in a special part of their body called a gland, and use their legs to pull it out of their bodies. This is called spinning.

Most species of spider have more than one kind of silk gland. Each one has different strength and stretchiness and is used for a specific purpose such as web frame, sticky strands, or covering eggs. The strength and stretchiness of silk depends on the way the spider’s body arranges the silk proteins.

Spiders have evolved to spin very strong silk webs so they can catch insects to eat. This means that long ago, spiders that made stronger webs caught more insects to eat and had more babies, but spiders that made weaker webs caught fewer insects and had fewer babies.

After millions of years of this process, some spiders today make silk that is very strong. We don’t usually notice just how strong they can be because they are amazingly thin. But the strongest silk, such as silk from a golden orb spider, is actually stronger than steel. Even more amazing, it is about 50 times as light.

Actually, spider silk is a bit like a cross between steel and rubber. Even with the help of complicated machines and chemicals, humans still don’t know how to make a material this strong, stretchy, and light. Spiders are still the champions at this.

Amazing facts about silk

Most people know that spiders and silkworms make silk, but did you know there are more than 20 different groups of animals that make silk?

Silk-making animals include crickets, silverfish, glow-worms, ants, bees, wasps, flies, caterpillars, lacewings, and sawfly larvae.

Some of these make silk to protect themselves. Crickets, for example, use silk to sew leaves together to build a nest. Others use silk in mating, such as dance-flies, in which the male impresses the female with a gift of food wrapped in silk. Some use silk for hunting, such as spiders and even glow-worms, which use sticky silk to capture flying animals they’d like to eat.

Scientists are closer than ever to producing artificial silk. For example, Dr Tara Sutherland at CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences can make bee silk proteins using bacteria, and then spin them into solid strings similar to those made by bees.

Maybe one day, if you become a scientist, you might be able to make something as strong, as light and as special as spiders’ silk.

Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. They can:

* Email your question to [email protected]
* Tell us on Twitter by tagging @ConversationEDU with the hashtag #curiouskids, or
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theconversation.com

What are spider webs made of? And how do they spin them?

Find out how web-spinning spiders do what they do and learn about the impressive, multipurpose material they use to catch their dinner.

Spiders make their webs from silk, a natural fibre made of protein.

Not only does spider silk combine the useful properties of high tensile strength and extensibility, it can be beautiful in its own right.

Jan says, ‘Silk is an amazing material. Golden silk orb-weavers, which are found in warm regions around the world — but not the UK, unfortunately — spin webs with a lovely golden sheen. Their silk has even been used to create a shimmering golden cape that was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2012.’В

UK spiders tend to produce silk that is white or has a bluish hue.

There are seven different silk glands, which produce silk with different characteristics and uses.В For example cribellate silk is very woolly.

Jan Beccaloni, the Museum’s arachnid curator, adds, ‘Cribellate silk acts like Velcro, sticking to the legs and bristles of captured insects.’

Each type of silk gland is associated with a particular spinneret. No species has all seven, but orb-web weavers have five.

Golden silk orb-weavers (Nephila species) spin silk with a brilliant yellow colour

В© Claire E Carter/Shutterstock.com

A golden cape woven from spider silk, which was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2012

How do spiders make their webs?

A spider spinning silk to make its web, pulling the thread out with its hind leg

В© Ian Fletcher/Shutterstock.com

Spiders have structures called spinnerets on their abdomen, usually on the underside to the rear. These are the silk-spinning organs. Different species have different numbers of spinnerets, but most have a cluster.

At the end of each spinneret is a collection of spigots, nozzle-like structures. A single silk thread comes out of each.

Jan explains, ‘Although it looks a bit like an icing nozzle, the silk is pulled out by gravity or the spider’s hind leg. The silk is liquid when it’s inside the spider.’

Before it is extruded out of the spinneret, cribellate silk first passes through a sieve-like structure called the cribellum. Spiders that make this type of silk also have a row of specialised leg bristles called the calamistrum, which combs the silk out and gives it the different, woolly texture.

See also:  When Should You Worry About A Spider Bite?

Spiders then follow various patterns of activity to construct their webs, depending on what species it is. It’s fascinating to watch.

Do all spiders make webs?

Although webs are the most well-known use for spider silk, not all spiders make webs to catch their prey. In fact, less than half of the 37 spider families in Britain do.

Other spiders, such as crab spiders in the family Thomisidae, are ‘sit and wait’ predators — for example Misumena vatia lurks on flower heads, waiting to ambushing visiting insects. Others, such as jumping spiders in the family Saltidae, actively follow their prey and catch it by leaping on it.

A crab spider,В Misumena vatia,В ambushing prey from its flower vantage point

Courtesy of Pixabay (CC0)

A jumping spider,В Salticus scenicus, attacking a fly

Some spiders even invade other webs to find their food. The pirate spiders, of which there are four UK species in the genusВ Ero, go onto another spider’s web and mimic the behaviour of its prey to lure the spider closer. When the web’s owner investigates, the pirate spider attacks.

Silk: a multipurpose material

A jumping spider peers out of its silk cell hiding place

В© Judy Gallagher (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr

However, even spiders that don’t make webs have uses for silk, including creating moulting platforms, sperm webs for males, and retreats.

Jan adds, ‘Jumping spiders, for example, make little silken cells in which to hide in during the day — a bit like a sleeping bag.’

Most spiders use silk to wrap their eggs.

Another common use for silk is as a drag line. Every so often a spider attaches a thread of silk to something, like an anchor, so that if it falls, it won’t fall too far and can drag itself back up to the previous position.

Ballooning is another spectacular use for silk, allowing the mass dispersal of spiderlings and small adults.

After climbing to a relatively high point, the spider points its abdomen skywards and pulls out one to several threads. When air or electrostatic currents carry the threads upwards, the spider follows. They can be carried many thousands of metres.

A field coated in silk after a mass dispersal of spiders by ballooning

В© Stephen Michael Barnett (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr

Money spider mass dispersals in particular make quite a sight. Sometimes the numbers involved can leave an entire field coated in gossamer threads.

Jan says, ‘Not all spiders disperse this way, but it’s the reason spiders are some of the first creatures to colonise new islands.’

More spider web facts

Now that you know how spiders make their webs, discover their impressive variety. British spider webs can be grouped into seven broad types based on their architecture: orb, sheet, tangle, funnel, lace, radial and purse. But even within each group, different species put their own spin on the style.

The diving bell spider (Argyroneta aquatica) probably has the most unusual use for its web, which enables it to spend most of its life underwater — a unique ability among spiders.В It constructs a net of silk between submerged vegetation and uses it to gather a bubble of air — its very own diving bell.

View the common styles of web and the spiders that make them >

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