Despite their bulging eyes, spiders rely almost exclusively on web vibrations to sense the world around them. By feel alone, they can determine the type of prey tangled in their webs and assess a prospective mate’s intentions. With sound such an integral spidey sense, researchers wondered if spiders evolved to spin silks that optimally transmit informative vibrations. To test the acoustic properties of spider silk, the team shot bullets at orb weaver spider webs and captured the resulting vibrations using high-speed cameras and lasers. The silk scaffolding of spider webs can carry the largest range of sound wave speeds of any known material, the researchers report online this week in Advanced Materials. The team proposes that spiders tune the tension in their webs like a guitar string by plucking the silk strands and listening to the resulting echoes, creating clearer vibrational signals from captured prey. The sound science behind spider silks could inspire new lightweight sensors.
The study URL was not available at press time. On Friday, you should be able to find the paper here.