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ScienceShot: A (Spider) Web of Knowledge

Web surfing isn't just for humans. New research suggests that an East Asian spider, Cyclosa octotuberculata, can learn which sector of its web is most likely to snare prey—and can harness that knowledge to grab prey more efficiently. Until now, this species of spider was known for adorning its web with the outer shells of its victims and its own discarded exoskeletons, a ghoulish habit that earned it the Japanese nickname "gomi-gumo," or garbage spider (see image). For the new research, garbage spiders were plucked from the wild and placed in the lab. There, they built webs of the classic Charlotte's Web design, with concentric rings connected by radial threads; the spiders usually lurk at the center waiting for prey. Each spider was provisioned for 4 days with flies placed in the same quadrant of its web. The arachnids responded to this training by preferentially tightening the silky lines from their waiting place to the bountiful section of their webs, as reported online today in Biology Letters. Higher-tension threads transmit the vibrations from struggling victims more quickly, making prey capture more efficient. So a spider's web functions not just as a source of food and shelter but also as a conduit for information. Take that, Google.

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