Magazine article Science News

Hungry Spiders Tune Up Web Jiggliness

Magazine article Science News

Hungry Spiders Tune Up Web Jiggliness

Article excerpt

An Asian spider spins webs of different designs depending on how hungry it is, reports a Japanese researcher.

A well-fed Octonoba sybotides spider adds silk bands along web spokes, Takeshi Watanabe of the University of Kyoto has observed. When the spider gets hungry, however, it arranges the bands so that they spiral toward the web's hub.

The two web types responds differently to incoming prey, Watanabe argues in the March 22 PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON B. Hungry spiders set their webs to quiver at the ping of even a tiny insect, he contends. Satiated spiders tune down the sensitivity so webs vibrate only for a big prize.

The report joins a recent surge of research on an old question: Why do spiders decorate their webs? At least 78 species add scrawls of silk, perhaps bars or an X, that have no purpose clear to people. A description in 1889 called them stabilimenta, as if they added stability, notes George Uetz of the University of Cincinnati. Since then, researchers have speculated that silk squiggles evolved as hiding spots, warnings for birds, lures for prey, devices to slow bee leaning, and even sun shields.

"It s like `Certs is a candy mint; Certs is a breath mint," Uetz says. "What's interesting about this paper is, here's yet another point of view."

Watanabe's suggestion echoes the original notion of a structural function, notes Marie Herberstein of the University of Melbourne in Australia. When she recently reviewed the literature on web decorations, she found little testing of their mechanical effects. …

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