An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

How Webs Work

9-7-18 orb webs_U1A7834Spiders produce different types of silk for different purposes, including draglines, egg sacs, ballooning, building a web and wrapping prey.  Much of the silk spiders use to spin webs has a sticky consistency, in order to catch flying insects. It turns out that sticky silk isn’t the only reason spider webs are such efficient insect catchers.

According to scientists at Oxford University, not only is much of a spider’s web silk sticky, but it is coated with a glue that is electrically conductive.   This glue causes spider webs to reach out and grab all charged particles that fly into it, from pollen to grasshoppers.  Physics accounts for the web moving toward all airborne objects, whether they are positively or negatively charged.

According to Prof. Vollrath of Oxford University, electrical attraction also drags airborne pollutants (aerosols, pesticides, etc.) to the web.  For this reason, it’s been suggested that webs could be a valuable resource for environmental monitoring. (Thanks to Elizabeth Walker and Linda Fuerst for introducing me to this phenomenon.)

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25 responses

  1. Marilyn

    Amazing!

    September 3, 2018 at 8:15 am

  2. Sharon sparlin

    This makes me wonder the effects on the spider when she gathers the web silk to use again. Does she ingest it? If so, is she ingesting all those pollutants as well? Oh what a tangled, polluted web we weave.

    September 3, 2018 at 8:28 am

    • Do spiders re-use their silk ? I imagined that the silk is produced new each time web-construction is done.

      September 3, 2018 at 8:56 am

      • It’s my understanding that they do consume old silk, but new is produced for each web.

        September 6, 2018 at 12:40 pm

  3. Sue Wetmore

    Nature continues to amaze and surprise us with these new discoveries!

    September 3, 2018 at 8:32 am

  4. I thought we pretty much understood spider webs, but this shows how much more there is to discover. What an amazing discovery! Thanks for writing about it!

    September 3, 2018 at 8:39 am

  5. sue j

    Very interesting!

    September 3, 2018 at 9:04 am

  6. Carolyn Boardman

    I watch the spider webs in my field in Brownington, VT. One cool damp morning, webs were everywhere. As I held the ipad up to take a picture, the hummingbirds came to see what I was doing and use the feeder. I accidently took a picture of the hummingbird . I will try to past the picture here……nope, won’t let me. Tell me how I can send you this picture.
    Thanks
    Carolyn

    September 3, 2018 at 9:08 am

    • Hi Carolyn,
      You can email it to me at mholland@vermontel.net. I’d love to see it! Too late for hummers to be gathering nesting material, but their webs usually contain spider webs (to hold it all together)!

      September 3, 2018 at 1:10 pm

  7. Alice Pratt

    Beautiful photo..especially of the largest web….so interesting…ever more to learn from nature!

    September 3, 2018 at 9:25 am

  8. Troy

    Nice photograph. Nice article.

    September 3, 2018 at 9:27 am

  9. Anette

    Thanks for the lesson on Spider webs, I also observed that a hummingbird uses the web to make its nest.

    September 3, 2018 at 9:39 am

  10. Alice Pratt

    Such a beautiful photo…especially the middle web. Ever more to learn in nature!

    September 3, 2018 at 10:07 am

    • Alice Pratt

      (Oops….I didn’t see my 1st comment…how did that happen? 🤭)

      September 3, 2018 at 10:09 am

  11. So fascinating! Thanks!

    September 3, 2018 at 10:43 am

  12. Bill on the hill

    What a fascinating post Mary. Till now, I have never heard of this phenomena.
    The early morning dew on those webs I’ve seen many times down at the pond in the northside spillway amongst the cattails & reeds.
    Thank you…

    September 3, 2018 at 11:27 am

  13. Pat

    Fascinating! I’ve read that garden spiders eat their webs every night and spin new ones. So I wonder if any observations have been made on how any ingested pollutants on the webs might affect the spiders? I see someone else has asked a similar question. Inquiring minds want to know!

    September 3, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    • I honestly don’t know, Pat, but I will get back to you if I discover anything relevant to your question, which is a great one!

      September 6, 2018 at 12:38 pm

      • Pat

        Thanks, Mary. I see others have asked a similar question, so we will be interested to hear if you find anything out.

        September 6, 2018 at 12:51 pm

  14. Mary Quinn

    Totally amazing! Thank you for sharing.
    Sharon’s comment raised valid concerns though. Wonder if there such an effect as she mentioned.

    September 3, 2018 at 1:09 pm

  15. Alice Pratt

    Every and any day would be a wonderful day to tell you, Mary…but especially today! Your wonderful blog is a “Labor of Love! “…. thank you so much for all your wonderful photos & knowledge that you share with all of us! ❤️❤️

    September 3, 2018 at 1:23 pm

  16. SARAH KREBS

    WHo knew???

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    September 3, 2018 at 2:57 pm

  17. viola

    Oh, my, I certainly didn’t know about all this electrically charged business with spider webs. Nature never fails to be fascinating. So many thanks to you, Mary, for bringing this information to us in an such easily understood way. It makes my day and I’m ever so grateful!

    September 3, 2018 at 3:18 pm

  18. Alex Risley Schroeder

    Mary, and others, have you seen the article in The Atlantic about how the Earth’s electrical field is used by spiders to balloon! https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/the-electric-flight-of-spiders/564437/

    September 5, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    • Thank you, Alex! That is also new to me. Your bringing this to our attention is greatly appreciated!

      September 5, 2018 at 5:41 pm

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