ScienceShot: Old Spiders Weave Messy Webs

In humans, we associate getting older with cobwebs of the mind; in spiders, it's the cobwebs themselves that suffer. On Saturday, biologists will present research at the Society for Experimental Biology annual conference in Glasgow showing that as spiders age, they build shabbier, less perfect webs than they did in their youth. As a young creepy-crawly, the European house spider, Zygiella x-notata, weaves intricately patterned webs with regular spacing and exact angles, like this one in the left photo, built by a 17-day-old spider. The web in the right photo was built by a 188-days-old spider nearing the end of its life, and its web design is far more irregular and shows numerous gaps. Researchers suspect that, like in humans, the spider's central nervous system breaks down in old age. If that's the case, studying how these spiders' weaving skills deteriorate with age could help scientists learn more about aging's effect on human behavior, too.

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