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Spiders Harness the Power of Music

Jun 03, 2014 02:36 PM EDT

Spiders apparently know how to harness the power of music. Spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies so that, when plucked like a guitar string, its sound carries information about prey, mates, and even the structural integrity of a web.

Researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Strathclyde, and Sheffield interested in the fine tuning of spider webs fired bullets and lasers at spider silk to study how it vibrates. They found that it is unique in its ability to be tuned to a wide range of harmonics.

"Most spiders have poor eyesight and rely almost exclusively on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information," Beth Mortimer of the Oxford Silk Group at Oxford University, who led the research, explained in a news release. "The sound of silk can tell them what type of meal is entangled in their net and about the intentions and quality of a prospective mate. By plucking the silk like a guitar string and listening to the 'echoes' the spider can also assess the condition of its web."

And just like tuning guitar strings, spiders can tune their webs to just the right note. They are able to control and adjust both the inherent properties of the silk and the tensions and interconnectivities of the silk threads that make up the web.

To more closely observe these properties, researchers used ultra-high-speed cameras to film the threads as they responded to the impact of bullets. In addition, lasers were used to make detailed measurements of even the smallest vibration.

"These findings further demonstrate the outstanding properties of many spider silks that are able to combine exceptional toughness with the ability to transfer delicate information,' added co-author Professor Fritz Vollrath.

The findings, described in the journal Advanced Materials, not only reveal more about nature's eight-legged arachnid, but also could inspire a wide range of new technologies, such as tiny light-weight sensors.

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