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At Evolution News and Science Today: Arthropod architects amaze engineers

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Spider webs are a remarkable technology:

Bioengineers already envy spider silk for its exceptional strength and flexibility. A lesser-known but enviable quality is web architecture. Orb webs are admirable for their symmetry, but what about the irregular “tangle webs” that look chaotic, with silk strands going every which way? The tangle web, it turns out, is functionally beautiful; “it filters in prey and protects the spider from predators.” It is also well-built to be strong and resilient.

Seven researchers at MIT and one from Berlin investigated “In situ three-dimensional spider web construction and mechanics” and wrote up their findings in PNAS. Calling spiders an “evolutionary success” but also “nature’s engineers,” they say,

“Learning how spiders used their silks and webs to adapt to environmental pressures have fascinated many fields of research such as biomedicine, biology, and engineering. Because of silk’s nanoscale size and the complex web architecture, little is known about the architecture and mechanics of three-dimensional (3D) spider webs during construction. This work comprehensively investigates the structure, mechanics, and functionality of a 3D spider web under construction, using consistent imaging and computational simulations methods. This work could inspire efficient spider-inspired fabrication sequences or fiber geometries in engineered materials, as demonstrated here for 3D-printed prototype materials.”

Of interest to them was a spider’s ability to build “lightweight and high-performance web architectures often several times their size and with very few supports.” This ability would be helpful for spacecraft, for instance, where light weight is a priority. Human construction often takes advance planning, collection of materials and a large team of workers to put a structure together. A spider does all the work herself.

Evolution News, “Arthropod Architects Amaze Engineers” at Evolution News and Science Today (September 22, 2021)

The paper is closed access.

You may also wish to read: In what ways are spiders intelligent? The ability to perform simple cognitive functions does not appear to depend on the vertebrate brain as such.

God is an engineer. Eugene

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