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article imageSpiders tune their webs to signal to new partners

By Tim Sandle     Nov 1, 2016 in Environment
Oxford - Some species of spider tune their webs to different frequencies in order to catch prey and to attract partners, according to a new study.
According to Oxford University scientists, certain web-spinning arachnids are able to control the tension and stiffness of the silk used to construct a web, so that the web transmits vibrations in different frequencies. This is seen as similar to plucking a guitar string. The vibrations can be set for different purposes, either to help to detect prey caught on the sticky web or to attract a mate.
Speaking to Sky News, the lead researcher, Dr. Beth Mortimer explains: “Spiders use vibrations not only from prey which is caught in their web, where obviously it's important that they know where it is and what it might be.”
The researcher also explains that the vibrations are additionally important in courtship. With this, male spiders are able to engineer webs to produce a specific kind of musical pattern. Female spiders can then use the vibration signals to determine if the spider is male and whether the spider is of the same species. It may also be the female spider assesses whether the male is worthy of mating with (although this would require a more detailed assessment of spider behavior).
To assess the function of vibrations and webs, researchers deployed a laser to assess the vibrations moving through the web. The study was undertaken on the garden cross spider Araneus diadematus. Through numerous readings the researchers were able to demonstrate that the waiting spider could alter the degree of pulse disturbance emanating from the web (the amplitude). The spider was able to achieve this by altering the tension and stiffness of the silk.
Although the spider who creates the web can sense vibrations at different points, this appeared optimal from the center of the web. Web-dwelling spiders generally have limited vision and rely on web vibrations for their 'view' of the world.
The next wave of the research is to assess whether this phenomenon is found with other species of spider.
The research findings have been published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The research is titled “Tuning the instrument: sonic properties in the spider's web.”
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