Oxford researchers have recently unveiled the secret technique of a spider that weaves its web at a nano-scale, rather than producing micrometer-thick silken strands as most spiders do.
The feather-legged lace weaver, or the ‘garden center spider’ has also a very unique weaving technique that makes its web sticky. Most spiders use tiny blobs of organic glue to make their web’s fibers sticky and catch prey. The feather-legged lace weaver, scientifically dubbed Uloborus plumipes, uses instead electrostatics to trap its victims.
Researchers also noticed that the feather-legged lace weaver’s silky fibers are both long and strong, though they are nanometers thick. A nanometer is a millionth of a millimeter. Scientists claim that the newly found spidery weaving technique may help humans manufacture enhanced polymer fibers.
They also wrote in a recently published paper unveiling the secrets of the technique.
Katrin Kronenberger and Fritz Vollrath, the authors of the findings and researchers at the Oxford University’s zoology department, used microscopy methods to photograph and video record several female Uloborus plumipes while creating and spinning their silky threads.
The scientists learned that their silk producing glands were very different from the ones other spiders posses. Additionally, the silk was emerging from the glands in liquid state – a very rare phenomenon among spiders.
Due to its liquid state, the thread was easily shaped by the spider, which quickly caused it to stretch and freeze. The two researchers also noticed that as the fibers were stretched they also became very strong.
On a closer look, the spider silk producing gland, called the cribellum, consists in thousands of 500-nanometer-long tubes, which carry the raw material, and 50-nanometer-wide spigots which help the silk emerge.
The Oxford team explained that the thinness of the silky strands is due to these extra-slim tubes and spigots within the spider’s cribellum. Kronenberger said that the feather-legged lace weaver had one of the smallest glands among spiders.
The team also explained how the spider was making its web so sticky. They said that the animal violently pulls the solidified threads over several comb-like hairs on its hind legs and thus gives them a strong electrostatic charge. The fiber then becomes sticky just like a plastic ruler attracts tiny bits of paper when electrically charged.
The electrostatic charge and the nano-thinness of the thread result in a super-sticky web that no prey can escape.
The scientists published their findings January 28 in the journal Biology Letters.
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