• Source: Zaharovviktor/iStockphoto (via ABC Science)Source: Zaharovviktor/iStockphoto (via ABC Science)

UNSW research reveals spiders are still the best web designers

Researchers at UNSW Australia have discovered that spiders customize their webs to make sure that they get the diet they need.

Spiders optimize the web in terms of its size, strength and stickiness depending on what prey is around in the area.  The web must be able to successfully intercept and hold the prey until the spider comes to feed. However different prey strike the web with different amounts of force and cause different levels of vibrations during their escape attempts.

Dr Sean Blamires, an evolutionary biologist at UNSW Australia explains: "Crickets strike the web with more force and kick off against the web, causing pulse-like vibrations, flies buzz rather than pulse and put less stress on the web."

Dr Blamires and team investigated two possible cues influencing web design, in a complex experiment that involved feeding orb-weaving spiders Nephilia pilipes flies and crickets - the impact of different vibrations given off by prey attempting to escape the web, and the impact of different nutrients extracted by spiders from the prey.

The spiders need to make sure they have enough protein to keep building webs, and given the cost of producing strong webs, spiders have to design their web to account for nutrients so they don't invest in silk when they don't need to.

Given the choice, the spiders in the experiment seemed to prefer protein-rich crickets to flies, but if flies are the only food around, spiders will need to adjust their web to catch enough of these to get the protein they need. The spiders create a web with a bigger catching area and smaller mesh size, whereas if crickets are the main food source around, the web is made stronger and stickier to withstand the extra force required to keep crickets captive.

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