Scientists Say Spider Webs are Vibration Transmission Structures

Posted on September 20, 2016

Propagation of transverse waves through spider web

Scientists describe webs as vibration transmission structures that function like an instrument and deliver information. In a new study led by the University of Oxford researchers say the spider silk transmits information across a wide range of frequencies and carries information about prey, potential mates and the structural integrity of the web itself.

The researchers found that spider webs are "superbly tuned instruments for vibration transmission." They say the type of information being sent can be controlled by adjusting factors such as web tension and stiffness. The researchers also say, "Spiders carefully engineer their webs out of a range of silks to control web architecture, tension and stiffness, analogous to constructing and tuning a musical instrument."

Researchers used high-powered lasers were able to experimentally measure the ultra-small vibrations. This enabled the researchers to generate and test computer models using mathematical finite element analysis. These new observations indicate a spider can use behavior and silk properties to control the function of its web instrument.

Professor Fritz Vollrath, head of the Oxford Silk Group, says in a statement, "It is down to the interaction of the web materials, a range of bespoke web silks, and the spider with its highly tuned behaviour and armoury of sensors that allows this virtually blind animal to operate in a gossamer world of its own making, without vision and only relying on feeling. Perhaps the web spider can teach us something new about virtual vision."

The image above shows the propagation of transverse waves through the web of a garden cross spider. A research paper on the study was published here in the journal, Royal Society Interface. This video shows a spider reacting almost instantly to an insect getting caught in its web after it senses the vibration from the web.



Photo: A Soler 2016