Biology Faculty Research


Wet Webs Work Better: Humidity, Supercontraction and the Performance of Spider Orb Webs

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2007


Like many biomaterials, spider silk responds to water through softening and swelling. Major ampullate silk, the main structural element of most prey capture webs, also shrinks dramatically if unrestrained or develops high tension if restrained, a phenomenon called ‘supercontraction’. While supercontraction has been investigated for over 30 years, its consequences for web performance remain controversial. Here, we measured prey capture performance of dry and wet (supercontracted) orb webs of Argiope and Nephila using small wood blocks as prey. Prey capture performance significantly increased at high humidity for Argiope while the improvement was less dramatic for Nephila. This difference is likely due to Argiope silk supercontracting more than Nephila silk. Web deflection, measured as the extension of the web upon prey impact, also increased at high humidity in Argiope, suggesting that silk softening upon supercontraction explains the improved performance of wet webs. These results strongly argue that supercontraction is not detrimental to web performance.

Publication Title

Journal of Experimental Biology





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