When the early morning sun glints off droplets of dew on the gossamer strands of a spider web, it creates a visual masterpiece. Now scientists have found that an elaborate silk-woven web is also an acoustic tour de force.
The silk can vibrate at a wide range of frequencies, whichâ€”when pluckedâ€”give the spider vital information about the state of its web and the presence of prey.
“This study is fascinating,” said Joyce Wong, a biomaterials scientist at Boston University and an avid cellist who was not involved with the study. “I’ve worked with spider silk for years, but I’ve never contemplated its sonic properties.” This discovery, she said “has opened up a new line of research and applications that I hadn’t thought about.”
Compensating for Poor Eyesight
Spider silk has long fascinated scientists for its remarkable combination of strength and flexibility. Most man-made materials have one of these properties, but not the other. Eons of evolution have slowly tweaked the composition of spider silk to create a material that can absorb energy without being overly rigid.
Spiders, however, don’t care about high-tech applications of their silk. They weave their webs to catch prey and attract mates. But while humans can generally spot an insect trapped in a web, spidersâ€”which have extremely poor eyesightâ€”can’t.