Damping Capacity Is Evolutionarily Conserved in the Radial Silk of Orb-Weaving Spiders

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Fall 2011


Orb-weaving spiders depend upon their two-dimensional silk traps to stop insects in mid flight. While the silks used to construct orb webs must be extremely tough to absorb the tremendous kinetic energy of insect prey, webs must also minimize the return of that energy to prey to prevent insects from bouncing out of oscillating webs. We therefore predict that the damping capacity of major ampullate spider silk, which forms the supporting frames and radial threads of orb webs, should be evolutionarily conserved among orb-weaving spiders. We test this prediction by comparing silk from six diverse species of orb spiders. Silk was taken directly from the radii of orb webs and a Nano Bionix test system was used either to sequentially extend the silk to 25% strain in 5% increments while relaxing it fully between each cycle, or to pull virgin silk samples to 15% strain. Damping capacity was then calculated as the percent difference in loading and unloading energies. Damping capacity increased after yield for all species and typically ranged from 40 to 50% within each cycle for sequentially pulled silk and from 50 to 70% for virgin samples. Lower damping at smaller strains may allow orb webs to withstand minor perturbations from wind and small prey while still retaining the ability to capture large insects. The similarity in damping capacity of silk from the radii spun by diverse spiders highlights the importance of energy absorption by silk for orb-weaving spiders.

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