Biology Faculty Research

Title

The Common House Spider Alters the Material and Mechanical Properties of Cobweb Silk in Response to Different Prey

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Fall 2008

Abstract

Many spiders depend upon webs to capture prey. Web function results from architecture and mechanical performance of the silk. We hypothesized that the common house spider, Achaearanea tepidariorum, would alter the mechanical performance of its cobweb in response to different prey by varying the structural and material properties of its silk. We fed spiders either large, high kinetic energy crickets or small, low kinetic energy pillbugs for 1 week and then examined their freshly spun silk. We separated mechanical performance into structural and material effects. We measured both types of properties for silk threads collected directly from cobwebs to test for "tuning" of silk performance to different aspects of prey capture. We compared silk from two different functional regions of the cobweb-sticky gumfooted threads that adhere directly to prey and supporting threads that maintain web integrity. Supporting threads from cricket-fed spiders were stiffer and tougher than supporting threads from pillbug-fed spiders. Both types of silk from cricket-fed spiders broke at higher loads than silk from pillbug-fed spiders. We explain this variation using a simple model of forces exerted by prey and spiders on single threads and propose potential mechanisms for this change in material properties. Two alternative, nonexclusive, hypotheses are suggested by our data. Spiders may tune silk to different types of prey by spinning threads that are able to hold prey without deforming permanently. Alternatively, as spider's body mass differed dramatically between the two feeding regimes, spiders may tune silk to their own body mass.

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Zoology: Part A, Ecological Genetics and Physiology

Volume

309

Issue

9

First Page

542

Last Page

552