How a spider spins electrified nanosilk

cribellate orb spider

The cribellate orb spider (Uloborus plumipes) spins, combs and pulls nanofibers in such a way that charges the silk with static electricity.

Hartmut Kronenberger & Katrin Kronenberger/Oxford Univ.

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Some spiders trap their prey with glue, while others, like the cribellate orb spider (Uloborus plumipes), use static electricity. In the Jan. 27 Biology Letters, researchers report that this spider’s unique spinning technique actually electrifies its nanoscale silk.   

Scientists collected cribellate orb spiders from garden centers in England, analyzed images and video of the spinning process and examined silk samples using different types of microscopy. Tiny glands line the web-making aparatus on the spider’s belly and produce a gooey, raw silk substance called dope. Funnels transport the dope to spigots. The silk then solidifies as it shoots out of the spigot. As the spiders comb and pull it into nanofibers, electrostatic friction charges their threads.

Uloborus plumipes uses electric silk “capture thread” to subdue its prey. As the spiders comb and pull the capture thread, they create spaced puffs similar to those in wool, pictured in this scanning electron microscope image. Fritz Vollrath/Oxford Univ.
A false color SEM image shows the silk spigots that line the spider’s spinning plate or cribellum. Katrin Kronenberger/Oxford Univ., David Johnston/Univ. of Southampton
This confocal scanning micrograph of a section through the cribellum shows the many funnels that feed into the silk spigots. Katrin Kronenberger/Oxford University) & David Johnston (Univ. of Southampton
Studying the process of how these spiders spin their silk may improve nanofiber technology. Hartmut Kronenberger & Katrin Kronenberger/Oxford Univ.

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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