Spiders can control their webs tension and stiffness to help them identify potential partners as well as prey, study shows
Spiders can control the tension and stiffness of their webs to optimise their sensory powers, helping them locate and identify prey as well as partners, according to researchers at Oxford University.
Much in same way that notes travel along a plucked guitar string, spider silk transmits vibrations in different frequencies, sending information back to the spider.
Spiders use vibrations not only from prey which is caught in their web, where obviously its important that they know … where it is and what it might be, researcher Beth Mortimer said.
But vibrations are also important in courtship … A lot of males will actually generate a very specific kind of musical pattern which the females can use to determine not only that theyre a male but theyre the right species and whether she might want to mate with them as well.
Spiders can also use the information to assess their webs condition, she said.
As part of a study published last month in collaboration with the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the UK researchers took a web from the garden cross spider Araneus diadematus and sent measured pulses into its silk strands.
They used a laser to measure vibrations propagating through the web, showing how the waiting spider altered wave amplitude by changing tension and silk stiffness.
Theyre able to very closely change the tension of their webs … This means they have a mechanism for directly controlling both the tension and the stiffness of their silk fibres, Mortimer said.
[These mechanisms] allow them effectively to tune their webs properties so that they can control how sensory information is getting to them in the middle of the web.
Mortimer plans to conduct similar tests with more exotic species, including golden orb-weaver spiders.