What Is A Spider Web?

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


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.


University of Queensland provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • WhatsApp
  • Messenger

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.

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
* Tell us on Facebook


Please tell us your name, age, and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.


Types of Spider Webs and What They Mean

Spider webs are intricate marvels of engineering, beautiful and strong. And if you walk into one, you instantly become a karate master. In this moment, you really only want to know two things: “IS IT ON ME?!” and “WHAT KIND OF SPIDER WAS THAT?!”

See also:  How To Find A Spider?

Unless you see the spider, which is unlikely, you won’t be able to tell exactly who spun that web. However, if you got a look at the shape or design of the web before you destroyed it with your karate chops, you might be able to discern what family group it belonged to.

Contrary to Halloween decorations and other cartoon spider stereotypes, not all webs are round and used to catch prey. Some webs, such as those of the brown recluse, are small and used as a sort of nursery to house and protect eggs or young. Here are some of the different types of spiders according to the types of webs they weave.


(Araneidae) These sticky webs are the most familiar looking. They have spokes like a wheel, with a spiral design. Like most spiders, orb weavers are primarily found outdoors. Some orb-weavers’ webs include a structure that resembles a ladder, called a «stabilimentum,» but its use is still up for debate. No one really knows except the spiders, and they’re not talking.


(Uloboridae) If your first guess here was «a spider web shaped like a triangle,» you’re on the right track. If you think of the Araneid’s web as a pizza, the Uloborid’s web looks like a single slice; however, triangle spider webs are flat and built horizontally. These webs aren’t sticky; they’re fuzzy. Triangle spiders don’t dispense venom, so their webs are covered with tiny fibers that the spider uses to smother its prey.


(Agelenidae) Funnel web spiders use their webs as both a trap and a hideout, complete with a front entrance for prey and a back door in case the spider needs to make a quick exit. The web is large and flat, with a funnel at one end. The hobo spider is a member of the Agelenidae family.


(Theriidae) These guys are the pests who spin those super-sticky, messy webs in corners and along the tops of walls, especially in dark basements, garages and other storage areas. They are also known as «house spiders» and «comb-footed spiders.» The black widow spider belongs to this family.


(Dictynidae) Think of mesh web spiders as the outdoor version of the cobweb spider. Their webs are a little more organized and less messy than cobwebs, and these spiders build them under leaves, in fields and vegetation and under rocks.


(Linyphiidae) The spiders in this family trap their prey in webs made of dense layers of silk. Webs may be flat, bowl-shaped or dome-shaped.

Unfortunately, webs aren’t always reliable identification tools. While the presence of webs does indicate that spiders are hanging around your home, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re spider-free if you don’t see webs. Many kinds of spiders, including brown recluse, wolf spiders and jumping spiders, are hunters and don’t use webs to catch prey.

The Time Length for Termite Damage

According to the National Pest Management Association, Termites cause over 5 billion dollars in damage per year in the United States.

Are Garter Snakes Poisonous? It’s Time to Shed the Falsehoods

Have you ever happened upon a small snake slithering through the grass? There are more than 50 species of snakes living in the United States, and while a number of dangerous snakes can be found sneaking around homes, many snakes found in backyards belong to the garter snake species, which don’t pose a threat. Garter snakes are one of the most common snakes found in North America and they appear throughout most regions of the United States and Canada. In fact, many are sold and kept as pets.

How to Identify a Fire Ant Mound

Fire ants are more than just annoying insects that may leave itchy stings—they can also be destructive. The red-imported fire ant, often referred to as RIFA, is an invasive species and has been known to prey on other native insect species as well as plants, with some fire ants even preying on small mammals many times their own size. Their invasive and destructive behaviors are why it’s important to know how to recognize both the ants themselves and where they reside.

Why Are Bees Important?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Save the bees” in the last few years. But you might not know why it’s a detriment that our bee population is in danger—or why bees are so important in the first place. Bees are small after all, most around half an inch in size. How could one insect smaller than a quarter contribute so much to life on earth? But even if it seems improbable, bees are that important, and they are a valuable species in many different ecosystems. Keep reading to learn why.

The Ins and Outs of Fly Light Traps

See also:  What Does A Daddy Long Leg Spider Look Like?

Be it flies, moths and some beetles, a large number of pests are drawn toward lights. Though pests like some species of cockroaches, such as smoky-brown cockroaches, are highly attracted to light, most flying insects will surround a light source. While this can be a nuisance during a relaxing evening out on the porch, light can also be used to trap and kill these annoying pests.

Ticks vs. Bed Bugs: The Big Difference

You never want to see a tick on your body or a bed bug in your home. And especially when it comes to the latter, seeing one usually means there are others around. On the surface, ticks and bed bugs might seem similar: They are both pests that like to bite and feed on blood. But in fact, there’s more than one difference between these two creatures

Cleaning Tips to Help Prevent Pests in Your Home

A messy home can cause stress, health issues and, worst of all, bugs. Pests like to enter homes and cause chaos for the unsuspecting homeowners. The best way to prevent pests inside is to have a strong treatment plan and a spotless home.

Related Articles

The Barn Spider Facts: Behavior, Habitat and More

Contrary to their name, barn spiders can be found anywhere from house porches to rocky caves. These spiders are part of the orb-weaver family of spiders that construct intricate, wheel-shaped webs that they use to catch their prey.

5 Surprising Spider Abilities You Should Know About

Spiders. Those eight-legged arachnids. Who needs them? Sure, they eat pests like flies and mosquitoes, but what’s so special about that? Well, take a closer look at these little creatures, and you’ll discover there’s more to them than meets the eye.

Can Spiders Harm Your Pets?

Knowing which spiders are friends and which are foes will help you keep everyone in your home safe and healthy.

How Big is a Brown Recluse?

Because the brown recluse is so hyped up and feared by many people, you might expect it to be massive with legs that can cross city limits. But these spiders are actually pretty small.

Are House Spiders More Common in the Winter?

It’s a commonly accepted myth: Spiders flock to our houses in the fall to escape the coming cold of winter. But this notion is just that, a myth. Spiders generally don’t infest your house more in the winter.

Are Wolf Spiders Poisonous?

While wolf spiders may be an intimidating threat to other insects, are they dangerous to people?


  • Home
  • The Buzz
  • Learn About Pests
  • Site Map
  • Accessibility Statement


  • Terminix Canada ®
  • Corporate Information
  • Privacy
  • Terms of Use
  • Careers


  • ServiceMaster Home
  • AmeriSpec ®
  • Furniture Medic ®
  • MerryMaids ®
  • ServiceMaster Clean ®
  • ServiceMaster Restore ®



By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies to analyze website traffic and improve your experience on our website. Learn more about the types of cookies we use by reviewing our updated Privacy Policy.


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

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 >

  • British wildlife
  • Spiders
  • Biodiversity
  • What on Earth?

Spider webs: not just for Halloween

Explore seven common styles of spider web and discover the arachnids that make them.

Finding love on the web

Spiders may seem scary, but most of them are just looking for love. Read some dating profiles of spiders searching for the perfect mate.

A year of British garden wildlife

Join the team from BBC TV programme The British Garden: Life and Death on Your Lawn to uncover some of the hidden wildlife you could spot throughout the year.

How dangerous are false widow spiders?

Every autumn there are reports of false widow spiders becoming uninvited eight-legged houseguests across the UK.

Don’t miss a thing

Get email updates about our news, science, exhibitions, events, products, services and fundraising activities. You must be over the age of 13. Privacy notice.

The Natural History Museum

Closed until further notice

The Natural History
Museum at Tring

Hertfordshire HP23 6AP

Closed until further notice


  • What’s on
  • Exhibitions and attractions
  • Galleries and Museum map
  • Access


  • News
  • Anthropocene
  • British wildlife
  • Collections
  • Dinosaurs
  • Human Evolution
  • Oceans
  • Space
  • What on Earth?
  • Video

For schools

  • Things to do
  • Essential visiting information
  • Teaching resources


Join and support

  • Membership
  • Gift membership
  • Make a donation
  • Become a Patron
  • Corporate partnerships

Take part

  • Volunteer
  • Citizen science
  • Identify UK nature
  • Centre for UK Biodiversity
  • Wildlife Photographer
    of the Year competition

About us

  • News
  • Press office
  • Governance
  • Contact us

Online shop

Our science

  • Our work
  • Data
  • Collections
  • Departments and staff
  • Events and seminars
  • Courses and training
  • Library and Archives

Business services

  • Touring exhibitions
  • Consulting
  • Publishing
  • Film locations
  • NHM Images
  • Venue hire
  • Licensing


  • Privacy notice
  • Terms and conditions
  • Modern Slavery Statement

We use cookies and similar technologies to optimise your experience when using this site and to help tailor our digital advertising on third party sites. View our Cookie Policy and our new Privacy notice.


No comments

Добавить комментарий

Your e-mail will not be published. All fields are required.