Spiders in the Mist

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Delicate spiderweb at Mashpi Lodge, bejeweled with morning dew drops against a misty backdrop.

Spiders in the Mist: The Mystery of Dew-Laden Spiderwebs

Por: Juan Carlos Narváez

A couple of months ago, on a cloudy day, while we were on a hike with Marc (our Operations Manager), he saw some cobwebs covered with dew and asked: How do spiders keep their webs taut with so much dew on them? At that moment, I didn’t know the answer, until a couple of weeks ago when I came across an article in Science magazine.

I found out that when compressed, most fibers sag if they are soft, and buckle if they are hard. But the silken webs of some spiders do neither: They remain taut no matter how far they are stretched or compressed. But why?

Scientists have discovered how the spider’s webs maintain their tension. For this, they devised a system and using a nanoscale and a microscope they isolated one strand of a spider web and artificially compressed and stretched it.

They found that the strands, used to build the sticky spirals of the web, are liquid and solid at the same time. This means that when stretched they act as an elastic (solid), but when compressed, droplets of liquid silk that dot the fiber cause the solid silk to spool like a liquid.

With this new vision, this same group of researchers decided to create their own web with a “liquid wire”: a hybrid material made from polyurethane wire covered with droplets of silicone oil. This synthetic fiber showed the same properties that spider silk and the state change from solid to liquid occurred when the fiber began to spool within the silicone droplets. In this video you can see the process:

In addition, the researchers say that any sufficiently thin fiber surrounded by a droplet should show these same properties, which could one day be applied to robotics, artificial muscles, and even flexible, stretchable electronics.

Now every day I walk through the forest on misty days and come across the beautiful cobwebs covered with dew, I marvel even more knowing that these drops are not only a delight to behold, with the webs’ beautiful symmetrical shapes and whimsical colors, but also because they play a very important role in keeping the cobwebs taut and allowing spiders to hunt their prey more efficiently.

It’s amazing how much we can learn from the forest if we are dedicated to care for and study it. Who knows, maybe we can find hidden applications that improve our quality of life.

If you want to learn more this is the link of the article: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/video-how-spider-webs-stay-tense


Spiders in the Mist
Spiders in the Mist
Tourists observing a yellow land iguana in its natural habitat at Finch Bay, Galapagos, included in Mashpi package tours.
Our Premier Ecuador Experience: The Golden Triangle
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