Spiders are fascinating creatures, and their ability to create intricate webs is one of their most well-known features. Webs serve a variety of purposes, such as capturing prey and providing a place for the spider to rest.
To construct a web, spiders use a natural liquid protein that is produced in their silk glands. When this protein is released through the spinnerets, it solidifies upon contact with the air, forming the thin, strong strands that make up the web. Different types of spiders create distinct web patterns, ranging from the familiar orb-webs to more irregular, tangled webs.
As an example, the garden orb-weaver spider spins a circular, tightly-knit web often seen in gardens or wooded areas. In contrast, the sheet-web spider creates a horizontal, sheet-like web to catch its prey. By examining various spider species and their respective webs, we can gain a deeper understanding of these remarkable creatures and the incredible engineering behind their web construction.
The Basics of Spider Webs
Spiders produce silk using specialized glands inside of their bodies. Different types of silk are used for various purposes, such as building webs, wrapping prey, or creating egg sacs. The process begins with a protein-rich liquid that hardens into silk fibers as it is pulled through the spinnerets1.
- Types of silk: Multiple silk types are produced by spiders, which serve different functions
- Protein-rich liquid: The silk production process starts with a liquid that contains proteins
Spinnerets and Their Role
Spinnerets are small, flexible tubes located at the end of a spider’s abdomen2. They play a crucial role in the construction of spider webs as they control the release of silk, and manipulate it to form intricate web structures. In many cases, spiders have more than one pair of spinnerets, allowing them to use the various types of silk at the same time.
- Flexible tubes: Spinnerets are small tubes that can move and control silk release
- Web construction: Spinnerets play a vital role in creating and shaping spider webs
Comparison of Silk Production and Spinnerets
|Produces different types of silk
|Releases and controls silk during web building
|Inside a spider’s body
|At the end of a spider’s abdomen
|Examples of use
|Web, wrapping prey, egg sacs
|Web construction, producing draglines, using multiple silk types
Types of Spider Webs
Orb webs are the most common and recognizable type of spider web. The orb-web design includes radial threads connected by a spiral of sticky silk. Some features of orb webs are:
- Built by orb-weaver spiders
- Contains both sticky and non-sticky silk
- Radial threads for support and a sticky spiral for catching prey
Examples of orb-weaver spiders include the garden spider and the golden silk orb-weaver.
Sheet webs are horizontal webs that resemble a flat sheet hence the name, sheet webs. Some characteristics of sheet webs are:
- Created by spiders like the lace sheet weaver
- Composed of loose layers of sticky silk
- Can be found in grass and low vegetation
Pros and cons of sheet webs:
- Pros: Less visible and easier to blend into the environment
- Cons: Less effective in catching flying insects like mosquitoes
Funnel webs are made by funnel-web spiders. They consist of a flat sheet-like web with a small funnel at the side. Funnel web features include:
- Small funnel leading into a tube or burrow
- Funnel serves as a hiding spot for the spider
An example of a funnel-web spider is the grass spider.
Tangle webs, also known as cobwebs, are irregular, intricate webs made by spiders like the common house spider.
Some features of tangle webs:
- Messy appearance with sticky silk strands
- Often found in corners and undisturbed areas
Pros and cons of tangle webs:
- Pros: Opportunistic; can catch a variety of prey
- Cons: Less aesthetically pleasing and can look messy
|Radial and spiral
|Gardens, open spaces
|Lace sheet weaver
|Grass, low vegetation
|Sheet with a funnel
|Ground, near their burrows
|Common house spider
|Corners, undisturbed areas
The Science Behind Webs
Strength and Elasticity
Spider webs are marvels of engineering, mainly due to their exceptional balance of strength and elasticity. A key component in their construction is a protein called silk. Some interesting features of spider silk include:
- Strength: It is stronger than steel when compared by weight.
- Elasticity: It can stretch up to several times its original length without breaking.
This combination of properties allows webs to withstand forces, such as those created when prey becomes trapped in the web. An example of how strength and elasticity work together in a web can be seen in the orb-weaver spider’s web, which exhibits a radial, circular design that efficiently distributes force throughout the structure.
The Stickiness Factor
In addition to strength and elasticity, spider webs also rely on stickiness to capture and retain prey. There are two main factors contributing to the stickiness of spider silk:
- Glandular secretions: Some spiders produce a glue-like substance in their silk, which enhances its stickiness.
- Microscopic hairs: Other spiders, like the tarantula, rely on microscopic hairs to generate friction and improve grip on surfaces.
|Stronger than steel
|Glandular secretions or microscopic hairs
In conclusion, the unique combination of strength, elasticity, and stickiness in spider silk make spider webs not only fascinating but also highly effective at capturing prey.
Unique Web Behaviors and Uses
Ballooning and Transportation
Ballooning is a fascinating behavior observed in spiders, allowing them to travel by using their silk as a sort of parachute. They release silk strands that catch the wind, enabling them to float and traverse through the air. This method is often used by young spiderlings of various species, such as the money spider, to disperse and find new habitats.
- Allows spiders to cover large distances
- Offers flexibility in finding food, shelter, or mates
- Can help avoid predators and competition
- Requires significant energy expenditure
- May lead to accidental encounters with predators
- Unpredictable wind conditions could land spiders in unfavorable locations
|Risk of Predation
Web Decorations and Prey Attraction
Some spider species, like the black widow, create intricate web decorations using their silk to attract prey. These decorations can enhance the web’s visibility to insects, making it more likely for them to fly into the web and become trapped.
Examples of decorations include:
- Zigzag patterns
- Stabilimenta (conspicuous silk bands)
Characteristics of decorative webs:
- Visually striking and easily noticeable
- May serve as a deterrent to predators
- Could aid in the spider’s camouflage
In conclusion, spiders display a range of unique behaviors and use their webs in various ways to aid in prey capture, transportation, and survival.
Interesting Spider Web Facts
Notable Spider Species and Their Webs
Some spider species and their webs are:
- Orb-weaver spiders: Known for their intricate circular webs, which can capture sounds.
- Funnel web spiders: Build funnel-shaped webs used for trapping prey and as a shelter.
- Sheet web spiders: Create horizontal sheet-like webs with tangle webs above them to catch prey.
- Black widow spiders: Construct three-dimensional irregular tangle webs, which can contain venomous bites.
The following table compares different web types:
|Radial and spiral threads
|Narrow entrance to capture prey
|Tangle webs above sheet
|Black Widow Tangle
Human Applications of Spider Silk
Spider silk has numerous potential applications due to its unique properties, such as:
- Strength: It’s stronger than steel and Kevlar on a per-weight basis.
- Elasticity: It can stretch up to five times its length without breaking.
- Biodegradability: As a natural material, it’s environmentally friendly.
Examples of human applications of spider silk include:
- Medical sutures and tissue engineering
- Manufacturing lightweight, strong clothing and protective gear
- Creating durable, stretchy materials for various industries
In conclusion, spiders and their webs are fascinating, displaying a wide variety of web types and architectures. The properties of spider silk offer many potential applications in various fields, making spiders and their silk glands an intriguing area of research.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Unknown Spider from Sierra Leone, Africa
Sierra Leone Spider
Location: WAPFR, Sierra Leone
October 10, 2011 9:20 am
Hi – I found this spider on my backdoor in the Western Area Peninsular Forest Reserve in Sierra Leone this week. At first it looked dead but when I nudged it, one of the front pairs of legs moved around a bit. It seems to group it’s legs into pairs… I’ve never seen one like this so am fascinated to get any more information. Thanks!
We do not recognize your spider, and it has been our experience that other than moths and butterflies, African insects and arachnids can be very difficult to identify because there is not much credible internet information available, and we also suspect that many species have still not been correctly described. We suspect this is one of the Orbweavers, but we are not certain. This posture is often seen in members of the genus Argiope which your spider somewhat resembles, though Argiope species are usually more brightly colored. We are posting your letter and photo and tagging it as unidentified, and we hope to eventually be able to provide you with an answer.
Karl is knocking identifications out of the ball park!!!
Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 2:47 PM
Unknown Spider from Sierra Leone – October 10, 2011
Hi Daniel and Keira:
It looks like a Net-casting Spider (Deinopidae) in the genus Deinopis, often referred to as Ogre-faced Spiders. The genus occurs globally, primarily in the southern hemisphere and particularly in Australia and Africa. The leg posture is typical and their hunting tactic is unique. They spin a web but rather than creating a stationary web that passively captures prey, they hold the web in their front four legs and drop with it onto passing insects as they hang in suspended ambush. The prey becomes entangled in the net and a quick bite then immobilizes it before it has a chance to struggle free. There are at least three genera of Deinopids in Africa (four globally) but the size and appearance suggest it is a species of Deinopis. Most online images are of Australian species, especially D. subrufa, and I was unable to determine a particular species name for this one. Regards. Karl
Letter 2 – Cellar Spider with Fungus Infection
Subject: White spider
Location: Southern Minnesota
December 19, 2016 1:57 pm
Found tons of these in my friend’s basement and barn. I think it is a cellar spider but when I touched it it took off crawling. They were everywhere. What could cause the white coloration? And every one I tried to touch crawled away
Signature: T. Arends
Dear T. Arends,
This is a Cellar Spider and it has a lethal fungus infection. If it was indeed alive and it crawled away, it is not long for this world.
Letter 3 – Unusual Spider from British Columbia appears to be a HOAX!!!
Subject: Spider doesn’t look native to BC
Location: Cortes island, British Columbia, CAN
March 25, 2016 9:23 pm
Found a spider that I think may be far from home. Can’t tell if it’s hairy exactly; it looks more armoured but could have hair. If plopped in my hand it would likely rim the inside of my palm – fairly large. And it’s spots seem distinctive although I cannot seem to find what it really is… Any ideas?
We do not recognize your spider and we agree that its distinctive spots should make it easy to identify. Its markings are unlike any North American Spider we have seen. We wish your images were of higher quality, and that they illustrated the details of the spider better. Your description of the size is further indication that this is NOT a native species for your area, and it looks suspiciously like this plastic spider on the Collectible Wildlife Gifts website. We suspect that you are either the victim or the perpetrator of a hoax.
Lol!! Thank you for your honesty – and I too suspected a possible hoax. I have done much travel through south/ Central America and have seen a great many spiders yet this one was a puzzle indeed. I would inspected it further but I had nothing with me to detain it and I feared if it was real that me prodding would simply send it into hiding; and so I took photos in the half light of the yurt and the following day collected a friend and some tools for the trade.
I thought I would write back to both thank you, and to let you know after a very funny story, some mental gymnastics and compassion for a creature far from home, we discovered it was indeed a spider from China… Made in China that is. And it was the source of great laughter and much merriment.
My iPhoto did not seem to capture even a glimpse of the rasta colouring on top of him. So he has now been lovingly collected into a well holed coconut oil jar complete with sticks, wood shavings and the likes, and called Bob Marley and will forever live in the communal cob kitchen.
Be well. Warmly, TLC
Letter 4 – Verrucosa arenata
We found this spider when we were doing some construction in Northern Virginia… it’s brighter red in color than the photos appear. We have searched your website from top to bottom and can’t identify it… can you help?
We do have at least one image of Verrucosa arenata somewhere on our five spider pages, but I’m sure we would have difficulty locating it without the search engine provided.
Letter 5 – We Stand Corrected
All spiders do not have venom.
August 30, 2011 11:12 pm
Thank you for your interesting web site – I have been visiting it for many years now.
Just one query pls. Your regularly indicate that “All Spiders have poison”.
I was taught at varsity that the family Uloboridae does not have venom glands and the members are therefore not venomous. Was I taught wrong?
Deon, Pretoria, South Africa
Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention. As we have stated in numerous locations on our website, we do not have science backgrounds, but rather, we are visual artists who have an interest in the lower beasts. We decided to research this a bit, and have now learned that there is at least one family of spiders, Uloboridae as you have pointed out, that does not have venom. According to BugGuide, these Cribellate Orbweavers or Hackle-band Orbweavers are “unique among spiders in our area in having no venom at all.” The Spiders of Australia website has a nice page on them that also points out “Uloborid spiders are unusual in having no poison glands. They rely completely on wrapping their prey in silk.” Alas, we doubt that we will have the time to make this correction in every location on our website, but we will be sure to not make this error again.
Letter 6 – What’s That Spider???
Subject: Help ID
Location: reston, va
March 4, 2014 9:00 am
I keep finding these brown spiders in my basement. Need help with identification. Got a close up of eyes and.
Our editorial staff spent much time in Reston in the 1960s and 1970s when it was first built as we had relatives who moved there from Fairfax. Visiting the relatives always meant a trip to the Smithsonian. We are posting your photo and we will attempt an identification when we have more time. Perhaps one of our readers will write in with a comment. You might also try posting your photos to BugGuide because there is a huge network of folks that contribute there as compared to our lowly staff here at WTB? that formats each posting, crafting our individual responses with loving care. If you get an answer from BugGuide before we provide an identification, please let us know and we can update our own posting. Please use Reston Spider as the subject line.
Letter 7 – Whitetail Spider, or not???
TN – Arachnaphobia Sufferer TN_Dastardlyj@hotmail.com to bugman
show details 8:41 pm (1 day ago)
Subject: Possible White-Tail?
Location: Launceston, Tasmania
August 24, 2011 10:41 pm
Bugpersons of gender unimportant:
Last evening, as I was attempting to climb into my bed, I was joined by a brazen harlot. She sat on top of the covers of my bed I commenced my spider ritual (running around, limbs flailing, screaming like a woman). In Truth, my normal reaction would have been to find the biggest heaviest thing I could pick up and heave it in the direction of the spider as they terrify me to no ends, but from reading your website whilst at work the last fortnight I’ve discovered that this practice is generally frowned upon under bug carnage. So After decided on a name for my harlot (Charlotte), I obtained a plastic container and piece of laminated paper and attempted to negotiate her the hell out of my bed.
In truth, what followed was fifteen minutes of me freaking out every time she moved to the edges of the container while I carefully slipped the plastic under her. I took some photos of her incarceration with my phone, hence the terrible quality. While I understand you chaps are generally more focused on North American bugs given your geographical location, I wonder if you might be able to confirm Charlotte’s identity?
I thought it strange to see any spiders this time of year given Tasmania is the coldest of the Australian states on average and we’re in the last month of Winter.
If Charlotte is indeed a Whitetail I wonder if you had anyone with sufficient knowledge of these spiders skulling around? She was about the size of an Australian 50c piece (Maybe 4-5 cm). The majority of her legs were splayed forward, and as you can see in the second photo she had a white marking on her tail, hence my guess at her origins.
From what I gather, Whitetails have been speculated to have Necrotising bites, which gives me even more reason to fear spiders. A bite that rots flesh? Lets leave the zombie movies to the professionals, thanks folks.
Any assistance you can offer would be most apprciated.
Signature: TN – Arachnaphobia Sufferer
Wow, this is a detailed letter from a location with mysterious species. This will take considerable research and after a lovely social evening, our editorial staff would like something a little less challenging at the moment.
Letter 8 – WWW.Spiders.us
April 20, 2012 10:00 pm
I write content for www.Spiders.us (along with Eric Eaton) and I know this may sound rude of me to ask, but I was wondering how you would feel about adding www.Spiders.us to your list of “Bug Links?” If it makes any difference, we have been listing you on our identification page – http://www.spiders.us/identification/ – for a few years, so we’d be kind of helping each other out. We are just trying to spread the word a little more about our site because we lost a lot of active users when we closed our first forum, but now we’ve opened a new one.
Forgive my forwardness… and PLEASE don’t feel obligated, I only mentioned that we linked to you as a show of good faith, not to make you feel like you had to link to us in return. Please do check out the site and see what you think of it before making your choice. 🙂
Thanks for your time!
Mandy Howe of www.Spiders.us
Signature: Mandy Howe
We are happy to add you to our page of Bug Links.