Spider sprays strands of silk

September 26, 2023 • 1:15 pm

I’m itching to do biology posts, and have at least one or two papers on my desk, but of course those are the hardest posts of all and get few comments. Nevertheless, I’m proceeding, but every day I get about eight or none political posts that are less work.  Well, I do my best.

In lieu of a real science post, here’s some natural history by David Attenborough, showing a spider that can put a web 2 meters across hung 25 meters across a river.  (Rivers, of course, are good places to catch insects. What always amazes me about spiders is that their brains are so small yet are complex enough to encode very sophisticated behaviors, including weaving webs of intricate and reproducible shape.

This spider has a different skill set, but still as amazing.

26 thoughts on “Spider sprays strands of silk

  1. I don’t think the number of comments on your science posts is necessarily an indication of a lack of interest. I think it’s more that whilst we all have opinions about politics etc, when it comes to science, many of us don’t have the expertise to challenge your science articles.

    I’m quite happy to go toe to toe with you about who is the World’s greatest ever football player or whether anybody is recording good music these days, but it would be foolish of me – somebody whose formal education in biology ended at age sixteen – to challenge you on matters of evolution.

    1. I always read the science posts, too, and find them well thought out and stimulating interest, not just conveying knowledge.

    2. Well put, similar to my thoughts. One thing I like about the science posts is they challenge me to think of, or ask something novel, instead of “wow, that’s cool!”

  2. Thank you for the post, spiders and their silks are fascinating, an Attenborough I haven’t seen. Curiously the BBC is showing one at the moment, devoted to reptiles, a kimono dragon has just bitten a buffalo fatally injecting venom into a leg. A long time dying awaits.

  3. “their brains are so small yet are complex enough to encode very sophisticated behaviors”

    Maybe their behaviors are encoded in some other way than communication between neurons.

    It’s interesting to think of how differently the world works on a different size scale. We have intuitive concepts about “how the world works”, without realizing it depends on being a human size.

    Walk on water? NP 🙂

      1. Maybe there’s some way to quantify whether their network of neurons is complicated enough to encode their behaviors, or not. Based on a model of the mechanism.
        Even bacteria have behaviors, so maybe the spider’s behavior could be at least partly stored in some other way besides neurons?

  4. Spider lines and also the worms – they let out that real long thread and hang as if suspended in mid air.

    I wonder how large a diameter would be necessary to suspend some 80 kgs or so.

  5. Agreed the spraying is impressive. Also that’s a *lot* of silk to secrete at one time, whether sprayed or not. Must be a big investment.

  6. I always read the science posts and find them a useful summary of literature that I haven’t had time to get to (or may have missed in the first place).

  7. Now feeling guilty about the orbed web I removed from my rear windshield this morning. It was beautifully symmetrical and fit perfectly where she placed it. In a second, I destroyed her work and probably sent her packing for a new place to live and hunt. Damn humans!

  8. That is amazing. It’s fascinating how such behaviors can evolve. For instance, it seems very unlikely that the spider can see such distances and pick out specific targets, or otherwise sense them. It just casts its silk into the wind over the water.

    Once many years ago I walked out the front door of my parents home, very early, before sunrise, and walked right into a giant web. After freaking out and then extracting myself, I stepped back inside to turn the entry light on to see what I had run into. The web wasn’t as damaged as I would have thought. The web proper was about my armspan in diameter and including the anchor lines was at least 10′ (3 meters) across.

    But the really exciting thing was when I eventually noticed that the spider that called that web home was hanging off the hem of my shirt. It was enormous. The biggest golden silk orb-weaver spider (Trichonephila clavipes) I’d ever seen. Including legs about the size of my palm. I carefully stretched my shirt out as far as possible and convinced her to move from my shirt to a branch on a nearby bush. No coffee necessary that morning.

  9. It really is amazing to see that silk coming out like water from a fire hose! And the efficiency of being able then to eat one’s own silk after it’s been used if one is a spider is truly impressive. I’ve always loved spiders.

    1. “I’ve always loved spiders.”
      From a distance …
      In that video, one can see why a thousand horror movies have involved spiders, too.

  10. OK, so here’s a comment to demonstrate interest.

    I do like the science posts. I love orb spiders! This is the time of year when we have a lot of them where in western Oregon in our creek valley. They are delightful in the morning dew. I have a lot of cool photos from that little valley & elsewhere but my pictures aren’t the high-end professional quality that make the cut here.

    (Just deleted a paragraph abut politics and culture. I will need to choose a screen name to go into that train wreck, given the censorious nature of just about everybody on the internet)

  11. Amazing spider Prof. Coyne, thank you for sharing that. Praise be to the non-existent Lord that He didn’t make them the size of cows, we’d be in serious trouble.

    1. There *were* huge and terrifying creatures around in human prehistory, like sabertooth tigers and giant bears. Only humans exterminated them.
      The wildlife is relatively tame nowadays because we made it so.

  12. Love the natural history and science posts! News I can get elsewhere though it is certainly a convenience that it is here also. The science and amazing natural history posts are much harder to get elsewhere.

  13. The power of the peptide bond! (Spider silk is protein, made mostly from the smaller amino acids like glycine and alanine, and other nonpolar and polar aa’s with few polar or charged ones). Highly recommend Catherine Craig and Leslie Brunetta’s book Spider Silk, too.

    And whenever I see footage like this I wonder how long it took them to get it.

    Also, whenever spiders come up I am deeply saddened that my daughter is such a strident arachnophobe, who responds “I have a phobia!” without ever trying to do anything about it.

  14. I love your science posts–it was a link to one of your science posts that first brought me to your website. I also appreciate how much work they must be to research and write. But I’m a very infrequent commenter on anything anywhere, and I visit your website on my own rather than through a subscription, so my appreciation doesn’t show.

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