The Science of Spider WebsBy: Billy Thomas - February 2, 2012
Arachnophobia; the fear of spiders. Most people are afraid of these little guys for varying reasons; some are poisonous and some are just creepy looking. However, these 8-legged architects can build some astonishing structures using their silk.
Spider silk is a versatile material. For example, the single thread the spider uses to drop down, pull it and it stretches, but with no outside forces acting on it, it stiffens to its original state.
How does this work? You may ask, well, According to one source, during the elastic stage of the web, the proteins in spider silk are pressed into finite folded structures. So when the spider decides to drop, the structures unfurl, when the folds are gone, the proteins reconfigure into the tough structures referred to as beta-sheet nanocrystals.
Scientists performed a study to see how molecular properties impact the entire web. So, a group of researchers sought out a a basic web built by your every day casual spider. With the spider still on the web, the team hung tiny metal wires on the web to simulate an insect caught in the web. When they pulled the wires, the individual spokes of the web broke, but the other threads, acting as almost support structures, didn’t break.
The results of the experiment really show off the unique ecology of these arachnids. Spider silk is one of the most scientifically interesting natural materials. Other creatures that spin silk, such as silk worms, their silk is made to be more stretchy than anything. A spider’s silk, however, can be elastic and incredibly strong at different times.
Needless to say spider webs are incredible structures and a useful hunting tool for the creatures. The architecture and pure aesthetic beauty of the web is just an added bonus. Spiders may be creepy to you, but they sure are smart arachnids.