10 Super Silky Spider Facts

Updated on November 1, 2018
Frances Metcalfe profile image

Frances Metcalfe lives in rural France. In between house renovation she writes about all types of observations.

A Beautiful Bejewelled Spider's Web

Source

Spiders: Nature's Spinning Wonders

For many humans, spiders are capable of putting not just the wind up them, but a force nine gale, such is the fear they can provoke. But the inventiveness of these abundant creatures lay claim to some amazing feats, even if they're not all completely palatable (to humans at least.)

These wonders of nature are helping scientists to formulate new materials. Love them or hate them, they may be helping us in the not too distant future.

A black widow Spider showing the silk glands.(Spinnarets)
A black widow Spider showing the silk glands.(Spinnarets) | Source

1. Spiders Go to Great Lengths

All types of spiders have the ability to spin silk from glands in their body. Madagascar, that wondrous land of flora and fauna, is home to spiders that have the ability to spin a single silky strand that can span a river.

Webs up to 25 meters wide, created by Darwin's bark spider were discovered in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park by zoologist Ingi Agnarrson from the University of Puerto Rico. Research concluded that the web builders were nearly always female.1

2. Silky Variations

There are up to eight different types of spider silks and an individual spider is capable of spinning up to six. One type is used for the dragline, the strand from which a spider descends from a plant or a ceiling. Another is the stiff tubilform silk, excellent for winding round egg sacs for protection. The particularly sticky stretchy capture-spiral silk binds lines of the web while the minor-ampullate silk also is used for web construction At three times the strength of the dragline silk, anciform silk is used for capturing prey.2

Green lynx spider sitting on egg sack.
Green lynx spider sitting on egg sack. | Source

We should take care of our spiders. They contribute to our eco-system by recycling dead animals and plants and are vital pollinators, and are food for other animals as well.

The goldenrod crab spider predominantly lives on goldenrod and milkwort. Clambering over the flowers distributes the pollen and they also eat the pollen as high energy food.
The goldenrod crab spider predominantly lives on goldenrod and milkwort. Clambering over the flowers distributes the pollen and they also eat the pollen as high energy food. | Source

3. Spiders: Smooth-as-Silk Operators

An important consideration of a male spider's courtship is the use of silk depositions. This can take place on the female spider's own web or at the entrance to her burrow. It's thought the vibrations they produce can either enhance or reduce the chances of success.

In the case of black widow spiders this is especially vital. To avoid the chance of being cannibalised the male will perform his very best courtship signals to be accepted as mate, and escape any designs the female has on having her cake and eating it. In the case of the orb weaver spider, chemicals in the silk and even its colour may make the femme fatale rather less inclined to fatalism and increase the male's percentage of survival.

'Bridal veils' are the height of fashion for some spiders. Adding a touch of spice to their sex life, certain males will liven things up with a bit of judicial bondage. Enveloping his intended in silk may be crucial for the nursery spider, for while she fights her way out of her restraint, the male, having transferred his sperm, makes good his escape and flees from the possibility of being next on the menu.

As part of the bonding process, so to speak, some female spiders actually take the veil. Not that they enter a nunnery after having a bit of fun, but rather they consume the silk.3

Nursery Web Spiders in Bondage Ritual

4. Taking Silk and Judging Well

As we have learnt, life as a male spider can be a precarious occupation, so their web of intrigue must know no bounds. What better than to woo the object of your desire by bearing the equivalent of a bunch of roses?

Not that it's a bed of the red prickly flowers for all concerned. Spider rivalry can be deadly and the spider who doesn't come up to scratch can lose everything, including his life. Adding insult to injury, the victor gift wraps the opposition in his silk and offers it to the female. It's a smart move. Not all male spiders are quite that callous to his own kind. A twitchy spider may catch something on the usual diet and offer that to the female.

Whichever tactic is used, holding the grisly present between her jaws means he can get on with the serious business of sperm donation, safe in the knowledge her mouth is conveniently occupied and her choppers will not be tempted to take a bite in his direction.3

Despatching other would-be suitors is not the only tactic up a triumphant male spider's silky sleeve. Some leave a detachable palp, rather like a penis, as a sort of stopper, thwarting another male's desire for the same goal.4

A Male Spider Trades a Life Saving Gift

5. Spinning a Yarn For the Future

The amazing properties of spider silk has led to researchers developing synthetic versions for all manner of applications. It's very strong, more so than steel, and has tremendous elasticity. Potentially it could be woven into protective clothing, or braided to make sutures and other body repairs. The fibres have the added benefit of being manufactured at eco-friendly room temperature and is 98% water with the remaining 2% made up of silica and cellulose..5

Alas owing to the predatory nature of spider populations, it would be impractical to keep each one in solitary confinement to harvest the silk commercially, hence the hunt for a man made alternative.

The healing properties of spider silk were known hundreds of years ago when spider webs were applied to wounds. Unbeknown to our ancestors, it contains vitamin K which helps to stem bleeding.

Tetragnatha Spider

Source

6. Spiders Spin an Outsize Creepy Blanket

In October 2018 the unusually warm weather conditions caused a phenomenum on Lake Vistonida in the Xanthi region of north eastern Greece. Tetragnatha spiders spun a vast web covering 1000 square meters in an eerie silky film. Even nearby trees were engulfed. The previous month a lagoon at Aitoloko in the west of the country became inundated by tetragnatha spiders' webs. Mosquito larvae, which was in abundance due to the unseasonally hot conditions helped the Tetragnatha spider multiply and create this creepy covering..6 It really is the stuff of horror films.

Tetragnatha spiders are also known as stretch spiders due to their elongated body which they can fold down into a stick-like position. It camouflages them against plant stems in order to make it easier for them to catch their prey.3

7. Gossamer as the Holy Grail

Despite the extended Grecian silk blanket, harvesting spider silk is a highly laborious task, so much so, it has been dubbed 'The Holy Grail'. However the silk doesn't shine like the silk from silk worms and, despite its other qualities is less economically attractive.

In our high-tech world, the term 'The Holy Grail' is now applied to seeking its synthetic alternative.7

For more great facts about insects click here.

Some hummingbirds use spider silk to build their cup-shaped nests woven with other materials like moss and lichen, plant down such as dandelion clocks, feathers and leaves.

A Sun Hummingbird's Nest With Spider Silk

The spider silk provides elasticity to the nest and can expand with the growing chicks.
The spider silk provides elasticity to the nest and can expand with the growing chicks. | Source

8. Spiders Go for Gold

In 2012 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London exhibited one of the rarest textiles in the world. It's the only known fabric to exist created from the silk of more than a million Madagascan golden orb spiders. To create just four meters of the precious material it took 80 weavers four years, spending five years collecting the spiders, enough to be made into an exquisite cape.

Producing spider silk garments is an exclusive business and has only been known since 1709 when the Frenchman François-Xavier Bon de Saint Hilaire fashioned gloves and stockings and apparently a suit for King Louis XIV. In the nineteenth century Napoleon and his wife Josephine were the beneficiaries of stockings and a shawl woven by Spaniard Raimondo de Termeyer. Hardly a large scale operation.

Spider Silk Cape

Source

9. Sticky Spider Situations

We might assume, since webs are designed to trap prey, that the silk spiders secrete is sticky. In fact as they spin their webs tiny droplets of a protein glue-type substance cover the silk. How sticky it is varies with humidity. 8

Materials scientist Professor Ali Dhinojwala of the University of Akron in Ohio revealed that the glue needs water to keep it sticky. It is a feature that is exciting for scientists because the study of spider silk glue could aid the development of products such as bandages that do not come off under water.9

10. Spitting Spiders

Not all spiders spin webs or bundle up prey or eggs. Some spit. It's not a pleasant habit at the best of times. In the case of the spider family Scytodidae their table manners are distinctly disgusting.

These spiders fling out a venomous sticky silky gob from their mouth showering the prey in a criss-cross pattern. Often it's paralysed and rendered immobile, powerless against being further injected by another equally distateful fluid which dissolves the body and can be sucked up like a Scytodes smoothie.

Citations

1 dnaindia.com

2 fibre2fashion.com

3 spiderbytes.org

4 Live Science

5 The Smithsonian/innovation

6 The Independent

7 curiosity.com

8 asknature.org

9 BBC Earth Story


Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Frances Metcalfe

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      • Frances Metcalfe profile imageAUTHOR

        Frances Metcalfe 

        9 months ago from The Limousin, France

        Hello Bede. I also used shudder as a child when spiders came into view - then I learnt how they control pests. Eventually in the days when I used to work, I was the one called upon to get rid of them when they appeared in the office. Tell your sister most are harmless and even the worst would rather run a mile than come into contact with humans! (And spider silk is truly amazing!)

      • Bede le Venerable profile image

        Bede 

        9 months ago from Minnesota

        Hi Frances – I enjoyed learning new facts about spiders: six types of silk in one spider, vitamin K in webbing, and the incredible strength of one strand – amazing. My sister was terrified of spiders in earlier days and often commissioned me to annihilate them. Alas, had I known how amazing they are, I surely would have carried them outside instead.

      • Frances Metcalfe profile imageAUTHOR

        Frances Metcalfe 

        9 months ago from The Limousin, France

        Thank you Larry. Glad you liked the article. I learnt a lot too!

      • Larry Slawson profile image

        Larry Slawson 

        9 months ago from North Carolina

        Very interesting! Learned a lot!

      • Frances Metcalfe profile imageAUTHOR

        Frances Metcalfe 

        9 months ago from The Limousin, France

        Hi Flourish. So happy you liked the article. I had such fun and learning about things I didn't know was a real joy. So why not pass what I've learnt on?

      • Frances Metcalfe profile imageAUTHOR

        Frances Metcalfe 

        9 months ago from The Limousin, France

        Thank you Chitrandaga. Thought I'd have a change from my usual music articles. I've always been fascinated about natural history and when I read about Lake Vistonida being covered in that massive web, I decided to seek out more information on these exceptional creatures. Thanks for reading.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        9 months ago from USA

        I absolutely love your writing style here. You've managed to present biology in a wait-'til-you-hear-this manner, almost as if one person were gossiping to another, and it makes the article wholly and thoroughly intriguing.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        9 months ago from New Delhi, India

        Excellent information shared by you about spiders!

        Nature is wonderful and each of it’s creatures so unique. There is so much to know and learn.

        Thanks for the education about spiders. Very good selection of pictures and videos too. Thank You!

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