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J Exp Biol. 2013 Sep 1;216(Pt 17):3342-9. doi: 10.1242/jeb.083618. Epub 2013 Jun 4.

Wind induces variations in spider web geometry and sticky spiral droplet volume.

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  • 1Department of Life Science, National Chung-Hsing University, Taichung 40227, Taiwan.

Abstract

Trap building by animals is rare because it comes at a substantial cost. Using materials with properties that vary across environments maintains trap functionality. The sticky spiral silks of spider orb webs are used to catch flying prey. Web geometry, accompanied by compensatory changes in silk properties, may change across environments to sustain web functionality. We exposed the spider Cyclosa mulmeinensis to wind to test whether wind-induced changes in web geometry are accompanied by changes in aggregate silk droplet morphology, axial thread width or spiral stickiness. We compared: (i) web catching area, (ii) length of total silks, (iii) mesh height, (iv) number of radii, (v) aggregate droplet morphology and (vi) spiral thread stickiness, between webs made by spiders exposed to wind and those made by spiders not exposed to wind. We interpreted co-variation in droplet morphology or spiral stickiness with web capture area, mesh height or spiral length as the silk properties functionally compensating for changes in web geometry to reduce wind drag. Wind-exposed C. mulmeinensis built webs with smaller capture areas, shorter capture spiral lengths and more widely spaced capture spirals, resulting in the expenditure of less silk. Individuals that were exposed to wind also deposited larger droplets of sticky silk but the stickiness of the spiral threads remained unchanged. The larger droplets may be a product of a greater investment in water, or low molecular weight compounds facilitating atmospheric water uptake. Either way, droplet dehydration in wind is likely to be minimized.

KEYWORDS:

Cyclosa mulmeinensis; environmental stress; orb webs; spiral silk properties

PMID:
23737558
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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