Mystery of Spiders’ Webs Unravelled

According to researchers at Oxford University, spiders’ webs electrostatically reach out and ‘grab’ airborne particles, droplets and even insects.

December 31, 2013

According to researchers at Oxford University, spiders’ webs electrostatically reach out and ‘grab’ airborne particles, droplets and even insects. Electrically conductive glue spread over the threads of the web enables the web to spring out at passing charged particles (including insects), regardless of whether they are positively or negatively charged. This helps to explain how webs are able to efficiently collect airborne particles and why they actively reach out to passing insects.

Not only is this discovery fascinating, but it could also have practical applications as an alternative to expensive industrial sensors used for environmental monitoring. ‘The elegant physics of these webs make them perfect active filters of airborne pollutants including aerosols and pesticides,’ said Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, who led the study.

‘Electrical attraction drags these particles to the webs, so you could harvest and test webs to monitor pollution levels – for example, to check for pesticides that might be harming bee populations.’

Together with Dr Donald Edmonds of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, Professor Vollrath goes on to show how conductive webs cause a local distortion of the Earth’s background electric field. As many insects such as bees use their antennas to sense electrical disturbances, the researchers hypothesised that the spider’s intended prey might be able to electrostatically ‘see’ the web and avoid flying into it.

Source: Oxford Student

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