Science Questions

Why don't spiders get caught in their own web?

Tue, 29th Sep 2015

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Question

Victoria Lakota asked:

Hi †I'm Victoria Lakota and I am eight years old.

 

Why does the spider doesn't get hang up on It's spider web? † † † †

 

THANK YOU.

Answer

We put Victoria's question to zoologist Max Gray...

Spider webMax - The answer is that they get caught a bit, but they're very good at getting out of it essentially.

Kat - What is it in a spiderís web then thatís making it sticky? Tell us about the spider web.

Max - So, the web itself, the strand of silk that the spider creates to make its web out of is coated in a sort of sticky adhesive, ďgooĒ letís call it. I'm not sure exactly what itís made up of. But itís kind of a thick liquid that sticks to the silk and thatís what makes it sticky. The spider itself is very well adapted to avoid getting stuck in its own glue. But the interesting thing about this one, I went to research this question is that, itís only been figured out relatively recently. The paper that this was based on was only published in 2012. So, we didnít really know for quite a long time.

Kat - So, up until then, people just assume that spiders have these like magic non-stick feet.

Max - Probably. The assumption was that their feet are covered in some sort of anti-adhesive oil or something that neutralise the glue. Thatís only one of three separate things that spiders use to avoid getting stuck in their own webs. The second of which is they have a really clever structure on all of their legs. They're covered in tiny, tiny little hairs which has a dual effect of firstly just reducing the surface area that ever actually touches the web in the first place. So, there's less to stick to on a spiderís leg than say, on a flyís leg. But also, they're very, very thin and all these tiny little hairs come to a very fine point. And so, when the glue does get stuck to them, the oil that those hairs is coated in causes it all to run down to the tip and then it just drops off, rather than sticking to that hair at all in the first place.

Chris - So, why haven't the insects evolved the same trick?

Max - They donít spend as much time in a web.

Chris - I suppose itís a once in a lifetime experience.

Max - How many insects manage to escape the web to reproduce and contribute their genes to the next generation?

Kat - Spiders that haven't figured that one out aren't really going to do very well in the long term.

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Victoria Lakota asked the Naked Scientists: Hi †I'm Victoria Lakota and I am eight years old. Why does the spider not get hung up on its own web? † † † † THANK YOU. What do you think? Victoria Lakota, Wed, 7th Jul 2010

Spiders have a special oil on their legs that stops it from sticking to it's web. tangoblue, Sun, 18th Jul 2010

They also spin two types of web.. one is sticky and one is the type they use for anchoring and making the frame of the web. The spider knows which one is sticky... if they were to fall they can get stuck in their own web. JnA, Mon, 19th Jul 2010

I have never heard of a spider falling into it's own web before. Not saying i don't belive you though JnA. tangoblue, Tue, 20th Jul 2010

Well, I'm not sure how often it happens (though I suspect it has) though I mentioned it to demonstrate the point that not all the web is sticky and a spider *can* in the right set of circumstances, get caught. JnA, Tue, 20th Jul 2010

if i seen that i would just have to shout "IRONY"! tangoblue, Thu, 22nd Jul 2010

hehehe  yeah.. some spiders will capture smaller ones and eat them too. So even if you see a spider 'caught' in a web, it may be prey and not victim of their own making... of course it could also be 'daddy - who didn't get away fast enough' ;)
JnA, Thu, 22nd Jul 2010

Yeah it would really suck to be a male spider huh; Finish your business and next thing you know you're lunch! tangoblue, Mon, 26th Jul 2010

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