Fixing a Hole: Better (Spider) Web Design

Fixing a Hole: Better (Spider) Web Design

⎈ From tiny webs like the one “repairing” a hole in a leaf seen in the image, to giant orbs spanning 25 meters across rivers and lakes, the architecture of spider webs can teach us a thing or two about engineering. After all, spiders have been spinning silk for 400 milion years and now number at least 41,000 species spread out over every continent, including Antarctica. Each spider produces many different types of silk covering a range of mechanical properties: from the steely dragline silk in the radial strands to sticky capture silk that forms concentric circles in the web. Yet, only few spider silks have been studied, mostly at random, sometimes simply from the researcher’s own backyard! 

Bioprospecting: By combining fields as diverse as natural history, ecology, taxonomy, behavior and biomaterial science, researchers found that the Darwin’s Bark Spider (Caerostris darwini), a giant Malagasy riverine orb-weaving spider, produces the toughest silk discovered to date. Outperforming steel and Kevlar, the radial web threads of this spider have unusual elasticity, absorbing more kinetic energy upon prey impact so that they stretch, instead of fracturing. This allows the spiders to occupy a new ecological niche- the flyways above rivers where they can catch unsuspecting insects and even small birds and bats. Don’t you agree that scientists should get out of their labs and explore new habitats as well?!

Biomimicry: In nature, tiny amounts of metals penetrate protein structures to change their properties. These “impurities” are found in jaws, claws and cuticles where they impart additional toughness to biological material. Inspired by nature, scientists purposefully introduced zinc, titanium or aluminum into spider dragline silks by using a multiple pulsed vapor-phase infiltration method. The resulting material was tougher and more stable to environmental damage. Now this is the stuff of Spider Man!    

Free Reads: New Opportunities for an Ancient Material (2010) Ometto and Kaplan. Science.

Bioprospecting Finds the Toughest Biological Material: Extraordinary Silk from a Giant Riverine Orb Spider (2010). Agnarsson et al. PLOS ONE

The Beatles-Fixing a Hole:

Photo Credit: Bertrand Kulik 


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49 Responses to Fixing a Hole: Better (Spider) Web Design

  1. Rajini Rao says:

    Satyr Icon when I wrote that, I wondered if an intrepid Googler would challenge me 🙂 I stand corrected! That is a most awesome specimen, whether or not it builds webs.

    Edited post: from “other than Antarctica” to “including Antarctica”. Thanks! 

  2. Jesse H says:

    That is very interesting.

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    Jesse H thanks, I thought so too 🙂

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    M. Aamir Naseer hello there! How is my Twitter poet friend?

  5. Spider build d web is food safety but we build web is learn more than us

  6. Amazing piece of information! Thanks Rajini Rao 

  7. very cool stuff about the modified webbing with metals!

  8. Gretchen S. says:

    Very cool spider web roundup! I hadn’t known about the material introduction either. Sweetie studied metals infiltrated into ceramics, which similarly strengthens an already strong material.

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    There was quite the element of science fiction in the metal infused web- perhaps we’ll see it in the next Hollywood installation of Spider Man Janice Mansfield and Gretchen S. 🙂

  10. Jim Carver says:

    …stops my mind from wandering…where it will go…

    The next song on the album is …Wednesday morning at…

    One of my favs also.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    Mine too, Jim Carver . The entire album is my favorite. 

  12. Jim Carver says:

    George Martin said She’s Leaving Home always made him cry. It does the same to me.

    You know SP’s is said to be the first concept album, albeit not as clear cut as Hotel California .

  13. I’m on a trolley with a small slow phone or I’d find a link… Super-hydrophobic and super-hydrophilic surface coatings have been developed using microorganisms, for texture/surface structure, which is then modified with metal deposition to create the desired properties. Also, tagging in for the discussion.

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    David Archer I’m guessing this is a comment directed to my last post on viral coating for super hydrophilic surfaces? The trolley ride sounds nice! 

  15. Ha! Rajini Rao, meet Rajini Rao!

  16. Rajini Rao, Satyr Icon – “sea spiders,” or pycnogonids, while very cool in their own right, are not spiders. They are arthropods, but not arachnids.

  17. Jim Carver says:

    Steve Esterly According to a couple of sources cited in wiki, they appear to be the precursors of all arthropods, and that makes sense.

  18. Jim Carver – I haven’t heard that, but the last time I checked topics like the origin of arthropods and the relations between various major groups of arthropods were still very much open to debate.

  19. Jim Carver says:

    Steve Esterly Yeah, apparently still is, but the genetic evidence is compelling:

    Regier, Jerome C.; Shultz, Jeffrey W.; Zwick, Andreas; Hussey, April; Ball, Bernard; Wetzer, Regina; Martin, Joel W.; Cunningham, Clifford W. (2010). “Arthropod relationships revealed by phylogenomic analysis of nuclear protein-coding sequences”. Nature 463 (7284): 1079–83. Bibcode:2010Natur.463.1079R. doi:10.1038/nature08742. PMID 20147900.

    Sharma, P. P.; Kaluziak, S. T.; Perez-Porro, A. R.; Gonzalez, V. L.; Hormiga, G.; Wheeler, W. C.; Giribet, G. (2014). “Phylogenomic Interrogation of Arachnida Reveals Systemic Conflicts in Phylogenetic Signal”. Molecular Biology and Evolution 31 (11): 2963–84. doi:10.1093/molbev/msu235. PMID 25107551.

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    Jim Carver thanks for the references, I’ll check them out. 

  21. Interesting post and comments. I noticed the great informative comments on the question of spiders in Antarctica. All are correct, it just depends on the parameters being used. For example: There are land based spiders and other arachnids (mites) in Antarctica, but in the less severe areas (e.g. sub and maritime Antarctic area)

    However, if the “continent” of Antarctica is used specifically then this becomes a matter of spiders and/or arachnids vs arthropods. Just some food for thought.   

  22. Rajini Rao says:

    Garron Longfield thanks for that informative comment and the link. I had not quite appreciated how restricted the diversity of life is on the Antarctic continent. Nematodes as the dominant species, wow! 

  23. Stuti S A I says:


    I wish some spiders’ web craft were etched on canvas too. Or, some paintings/artifacts (akin to beads paintings) made from spiders’ webs could be displayed.

  24. Ketan Pandit says:

    Spider jall from excellent and pic edited are beautiful

  25. Rajini Rao absolutely spectacular shot, and a brilliant edition to #SpiderSunday  as well 😀

  26. Hi, insightful and philosophical

  27. this was a fantastic article for me. I had spider silk on my list of topics to read up about. This was quite relevant!

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    Steven Spence I find spiders quite fascinating too. Would love to see what you come up with in your readings! 

  29. You must love to teach

  30. Gary Klafta says:


  31. Gary Klafta says:

    CREEPY HORRIBLE SPIDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  32. Gary Klafta says:

    I HATE SPIDERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  33. Gary Klafta says:

    HORROR IS THE SPIDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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