Wonderful world of webs
My 8 year old daughter has a fascination with natural history and has a new found interest in spider webs and their construction (as you can see in the picture above) – the wool was supposed to be for a school knitting project but has ended up as a nature experiment instead. She has been asked to take it down in the interest of safety as the only thing she managed to catch was her baby sister.
I had never given much thought to spider webs themselves until one of my children bought a book written by Robert Matthews called “Why don’t Spiders stick to their webs?” In it, Matthews claims that spiders produce a range of different types of threads and only one of those is sticky. “The glue lies along the thread in globules, between which the spider daintily steps as he heads towards his prey.” I guess that explains how sometimes a fly flies directly into a spider web (usually in the corner of the kitchen ceiling before spring-clean day) and escapes unharmed. Until now, I had always presumed he had been flying too fast to adhere but perhaps, the daredevil insect was just super lucky to miss the minute globules of glue. Each spider can spin between five and seven different types of thread.
Spider silk, which is produced from a spinneret in the spider’s abdomen, comes out as a thin protein liquid and hardens as it hits the air. For the spider, the web is both its home and its hunting ground. Spider silk is an amazing substance, as when compared on a weight-to-weight ratio with steel, it is five times stronger. Some webs are strong enough to catch lizards and small birds and others are specifically designed for small insects such as houseflies. There are as many different designs of spider webs as there are species of spiders and webs range from “haunted house type tangles” to ornate orbs that simply have to be admired.
Each spider web is an engineering accomplishment, yet it is sad to think that most of them (except the ones in the corner of the kitchen) rarely last a day. There is an experiment you can try to preserve a web on a piece of card. I can’t post any pictures of a successful one yet as we keep making a complete mess of it but will continue trying as it would be lovely to have a collection of different styles.
To capture and preserve a spider web you will need:
- An uninhabited spider web (dry, with no dew on it)
- A can of spray-paint (black, white – perhaps silver if any is left over from Christmas)
- A can of artist’s fixative (art shop) or hairspray will do.
- A piece of card which is slightly bigger than the web. (get a contrasting colour to your spray paint) and a pair of scissors for the final trim.
1. Put the newspaper behind the web so you don’t graffiti whatever happens to be behind the web. Spray the web, evenly on both sides, from about 50 cm’s (so as not to blast it away). Leave it to dry for a while and then repeat the procedure on both sides.
2. When the web has dried for a second time – spray it on both sides with the hairspray to make it sticky.
3. While the web is still tacky, press the card up against the web and carefully push it up against the silk. (This is the really tricky bit as it is easy to end up with a sticky mess instead of a perfect web stuck to the card!)
4. Finally, cut the supporting strands of the web to release it from where it has been adhered to and spray with another coat of fixative to coat it firmly in place.
Have fun and enjoy – please let me know if any of you manage to do step 3 successfully!