is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers known generically as polyamides, first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station. Nylon is one of the most commonly used polymers.
Nylon is a thermoplastic, silky material, first used commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush (1938), followed more famously by women's stockings ("nylons"; 1940) after being introduced as a fabric at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Nylon is made of repeating units linked by amide bonds and is frequently referred to as polyamide
(PA). Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic thermoplastic polymer. There are two common ways of making nylon for fiber applications. In one approach, molecules with an acid (-COOH) group on each end are reacted with molecules containing amine (-NH2
) groups on each end. The resulting nylon is named on the basis of the number of carbon atoms separating the two acid groups and the two amines. These are formed into monomers of intermediate molecular weight, which are then reacted to form long polymer chains.
Nylon was intended to be a synthetic replacement for silk and substituted for it in many different products after silk became scarce during World War II. It replaced silk in military applications such as parachutes and flak vests, and was used in many types of vehicle tires.
Nylon fibers are used in many applications, including clothes fabrics, bridal veils, package paper, carpets, musical strings, pipes, and rope etc.
Nylon is used for mechanical parts such as machine screws, gears and other low- to medium-stress components previously cast in metal. Engineering-grade nylon is processed by extrusion, casting, and injection molding. Solid nylon is used in hair combs. Type 6,6 Nylon 101 is the most common commercial grade of nylon, and Nylon 6 is the most common commercial grade of molded nylon. For use in tools such as the spudger, a nylon is available in glass-filled variants which increase structural and impact strength and rigidity, and molybdenum sulfide-filled variants which increase lubricity.
Aramids are another type of polyamide with quite different chain structures which include aromatic groups in the main chain. Such polymers make excellent ballistic fibers.
Nylons are condensation copolymers formed by reacting equal parts of a diamine and a dicarboxylic acid, so that amides are formed at both ends of each monomer in a process analogous to polypeptide biopolymers. Chemical elements included are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. The numerical suffix specifies the numbers of carbons donated by the monomers; the diamine first and the diacid second. The most common variant is nylon 6-6 which refers to the fact that the diamine (hexamethylene diamine, IUPAC name: hexane-1,6-diamine) and the diacid (adipic acid, IUPAC name: hexanedioic acid) each donate 6 carbons to the polymer chain. As with other regular copolymers like polyesters and polyurethanes, the "repeating unit" consists of one of each monomer, so that they alternate in the chain. Since each monomer in this copolymer has the same reactive group on both ends, the direction of the amide bond reverses between each monomer, unlike natural polyamide proteins which have overall directionality: C terminal → N terminal. In the laboratory, nylon 6-6 can also be made using adipoyl chloride instead of adipic.
It is difficult to get the proportions exactly correct, and deviations can lead to chain termination at molecular weights less than a desirable 10,000 daltons (u). To overcome this problem, a crystalline, solid "nylon salt" can be formed at room temperature, using an exact 1:1 ratio of the acid and the base to neutralize each other. Heated to 285 °C (545 °F), the salt reacts to form nylon polymer. Above 20,000 daltons, it is impossible to spin the chains into yarn, so to combat this, some acetic acid is added to react with a free amine end group during polymer elongation to limit the molecular weight. In practice, and especially for 6,6, the monomers are often combined in a water solution. The water used to make the solution is evaporated under controlled conditions, and the increasing concentration of "salt" is polymerized to the final molecular weight.
DuPont patented nylon 6,6, so in order to compete, other companies (particularly the German BASF) developed the homopolymer nylon 6, or polycaprolactam — not a condensation polymer, but formed by a ring-opening polymerization (alternatively made by polymerizing aminocaproic acid). The peptide bond within the caprolactam is broken with the exposed active groups on each side being incorporated into two new bonds as the monomer becomes part of the polymer backbone. In this case, all amide bonds lie in the same direction, but the properties of nylon 6 are sometimes indistinguishable from those of nylon 6,6 — except for melt temperature and some fiber properties in products like carpets and textiles. There is also nylon 9.
The 428 °F (220 °C) melting point of nylon 6 is lower than the 509 °F (265 °C) melting point of nylon 6,6.
Nylon 5,10, made from pentamethylene diamine and sebacic acid, was studied by Carothers even before nylon 6,6 and has superior properties, but is more expensive to make. In keeping with this naming convention, "nylon 6,12" (N-6,12) or "PA-6,12" is a copolymer of a 6C diamine and a 12C diacid. Similarly for N-5,10 N-6,11; N-10,12, etc. Other nylons include copolymerized dicarboxylic acid/diamine products that are not
based upon the monomers listed above. For example, some aromatic nylons are polymerized with the addition of diacids like terephthalic acid (→ Kevlar, Twaron) or isophthalic acid (→ Nomex), more commonly associated with polyesters. There are copolymers of N-6,6/N6; copolymers of N-6,6/N-6/N-12; and others. Because of the way polyamides are formed, nylon would seem to be limited to unbranched, straight chains. But "star" branched nylon can be produced by the condensation of dicarboxylic acids with polyamines having three or more amino groups.
The general reaction is:
Two molecules of water are given off and the nylon is formed. Its properties are determined by the R and R' groups in the monomers. In nylon 6,6, R = 4C and R' = 6C alkanes, but one also has to include the two carboxyl carbons in the diacid to get the number it donates to the chain. In Kevlar, both R and R' are benzene rings.
The first approach: combining molecules with an acid (COOH) group on each end are reacted with two chemicals that contain amine (NH2
) groups on each end. This process creates nylon 6,6, made of hexamethylene diamine with six carbon atoms and adipic acid.
The second approach: a compound has an acid at one end and an amine at the other and is polymerized to form a chain with repeating units of (-NH-[CH2
. In other words, nylon 6 is made from a single six-carbon substance called caprolactam. In this equation, if n = 5, then nylon 6 is the assigned name (may also be referred to as polymer).
The characteristic features of nylon 6,6 include:
On the other hand, nylon 6 is easy to dye, more readily fades; it has a higher impact resistance, a more rapid moisture absorption, greater elasticity and elastic recovery.
Above their melting temperatures, Tm
, thermoplastics like nylon are amorphous solids or viscous fluids in which the chains approximate random coils. Below Tm
, amorphous regions alternate with regions which are lamellar crystals. The amorphous regions contribute elasticity and the crystalline regions contribute strength and rigidity. The planar amide (-CO-NH-) groups are very polar, so nylon forms multiple hydrogen bonds among adjacent strands. Because the nylon backbone is so regular and symmetrical, especially if all the amide bonds are in the configurationtrans
, nylons often have high crystallinity and make excellent fibers. The amount of crystallinity depends on the details of formation, as well as on the kind of nylon. Apparently it can never be quenched from a melt as a completely amorphous solid.
Nylon 6,6 can have multiple parallel strands aligned with their neighboring peptide bonds at coordinated separations of exactly 6 and 4 carbons for considerable lengths, so the carbonyl oxygens and amide hydrogens can line up to form interchain hydrogen bonds repeatedly, without interruption (see the figure opposite). Nylon 5,10 can have coordinated runs of 5 and 8 carbons. Thus parallel (but not antiparallel) strands can participate in extended, unbroken, multi-chain β-pleated sheets, a strong and tough supermolecular structure similar to that found in natural silk fibroin and the β-keratins in feathers. (Proteins have only an amino acid α-carbon separating sequential -CO-NH- groups.) Nylon 6 will form uninterrupted H-bonded sheets with mixed directionalities, but the β-sheet wrinkling is somewhat different. The three-dimensional disposition of each alkane hydrocarbon chain depends on rotations about the 109.47° tetrahedral bonds of singly bonded carbon atoms.
When extruded into fibers through pores in an industrial spinneret, the individual polymer chains tend to align because of viscous flow. If subjected to cold drawing afterwards, the fibers align further, increasing their crystallinity, and the material acquires additional tensile strength. In practice, nylon fibers are most often drawn using heated rolls at high speeds.
Block nylon tends to be less crystalline, except near the surfaces due to shearing stresses during formation. Nylon is clear and colorless, or milky, but is easily dyed. Multistranded nylon cord and rope is slippery and tends to unravel. The ends can be melted and fused with a heat source such as a flame or electrode to prevent this.
When dry, polyamide is a good electrical insulator. However, polyamide is hygroscopic. The absorption of water will change some of the material's properties such as its electrical resistance. Nylon is less absorbent than wool or cotton.
Bill Pittendreigh, DuPont, and other individuals and corporations worked diligently during the first few months of World War II to find a way to replace Asian silk and hemp with nylon in parachutes. It was also used to make tires, tents, ropes, ponchos, and other military supplies. It was even used in the production of a high-grade paper for U.S. currency. At the outset of the war, cotton accounted for more than 80% of all fibers used and manufactured, and wool fibers accounted for nearly all of the rest. By August 1945, manufactured fibers had taken a market share of 25%, at the expense of cotton. After the war, because of shortages of both silk and nylon, nylon parachute material was sometimes repurposed to make dresses.
Some of the terpolymers based upon nylon are used every day in packaging. Nylon has been used for meat wrappings and sausage sheaths.
Nylon was used to make the stock of the Remington Nylon 66 shotgun. The frame of the modern Glock pistol is made of a nylon composite.
In the mid-1940s, classical guitarist Andres Segovia mentioned the shortage of good guitar strings in the United States, particularly his favorite Pirastro catgut strings, to a number of foreign diplomats at a party, including General Lindeman of the British Embassy. A month later, the General presented Segovia with some nylon strings which he had obtained via some members of the DuPont family. Segovia found that although the strings produced a clear sound, they had a faint metallic timbre which he hoped could be eliminated.
Nylon strings were first tried on stage by Olga Coelho in New York in January, 1944.
In 1946, Segovia and string maker Albert Augustine were introduced by their mutual friend Vladimir Bobri, editor of Guitar Review. On the basis of Segovia's interest and Augustine's past experiments, they decided to pursue the development of nylon strings. DuPont, skeptical of the idea, agreed to supply the nylon if Augustine would endeavor to develop and produce the actual strings. After three years of development, Augustine demonstrated a nylon first string whose quality impressed guitarists, including Segovia, in addition to DuPont.
Wound strings, however, were more problematic. Eventually, however, after experimenting with various types of metal and smoothing and polishing techniques, Augustine was also able to produce high quality nylon wound strings.
Nylon can be used as the matrix material in composite materials, with reinforcing fibers like glass or carbon fiber; such a composite has a higher density than pure nylon. Such thermoplastic composites (25% to 30% glass fiber) are frequently used in car components next to the engine, such as intake manifolds, where the good heat resistance of such materials makes them feasible competitors to metals.
All nylons are susceptible to hydrolysis, especially by strong acids, a reaction essentially the reverse of the synthetic reaction shown above. The molecular weight of nylon products so attacked drops fast, and cracks form quickly at the affected zones. Lower members of the nylons (such as nylon 6) are affected more than higher members such as nylon 12. This means that nylon parts cannot be used in contact with sulfuric acid for example, such as the electrolyte used in lead–acid batteries. When being molded, nylon must be dried to prevent hydrolysis in the molding machine barrel since water at high temperatures can also degrade the polymer. The reaction is of the type:
Various nylons break down in fire and form hazardous smoke, and toxic fumes or ash, typically containing hydrogen cyanide. Incinerating nylons to recover the high energy used to create them is usually expensive, so most nylons reach the garbage dumps, decaying very slowly. Some recycling is done on nylon, usually creating pellets for reuse in the industry.
In 1940, John W. Eckelberry of DuPont stated that the letters "nyl" were arbitrary and the "on" was copied from the suffixes of other fibers such as cotton and rayon. A later publication by DuPont (Context
, vol. 7, no. 2, 1978) explained that the name was originally intended to be "No-Run" ("run" meaning "unravel"), but was modified to avoid making such an unjustified claim. Since the products was not really run-proof, the vowels were swapped to produce "nuron", which was changed to "nilon" "to make it sound less like a nerve tonic". For clarity in pronunciation, the "i" was changed to "y".
For historical perspectives on nylon, see the Documents List of "The Stocking Story: You Be The Historian" at the Smithsonian website, by The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
is a protein fiber spun by spiders. Spiders use their silk to make webs or other structures, which function as nets to catch other animals, or as nests or cocoons for protection for their offspring. They can also suspend themselves using their silk.
Many small spiders use silk threads for ballooning, the popular, though technically inaccurate, scientific term for the dynamic kiting spiderlings (mostly) use for dispersal. They extrude several threads into the air and let themselves be carried away by winds. Although most rides will end a few yards later, it seems to be a common way for spiders to invade islands. Many sailors have reported that spiders have been caught in their ship's sails, even when far from land. The extremely fine silk used by spiders for ballooning is known as gossamer.
In some cases, spiders may even use silk as a source of food.
Methods have been developed to silk a spider forcibly.
All spiders produce silks, and a single Spider can produce up to seven different types of silk for different uses. This is in contrast to insect silks, where most often only one type of silk is produced by an individual. Spider silks may be used for a number of different ecological uses, each with properties to match the function of the silk (see Properties section). The evolution of spiders has led to more complex and diverse uses of silk throughout its evolution, for example from primitive tube webs 300–400 mya to complex orb webs 110 mya.
Meeting the specification for all these ecological uses requires different types of silk suited to different broad properties, as either a fiber, a structure of fibers, or a silk-globule. These types include glues and fibers. Some types of fibers are used for structural support, others for constructing protective structures. Some can absorb energy effectively, whereas others transmit vibration efficiently. In a spider, these silk types are produced in different glands; so the silk from a particular gland can be linked to its use by the spider. See the later section for details on the mechanical properties of silk and how the structure of silk can achieve these different properties.
used in stabilimenta
Each spider and each type of silk has a set of mechanical properties optimised for their biological function.
Most silks, in particular dragline silk, have exceptional mechanical properties. They exhibit a unique combination of high tensile strength and extensibility (ductility). This enables a silk fiber to absorb a lot of energy before breaking (toughness, the area under a stress-strain curve).
A frequent mistake made in the mainstream media is to confuse strength and toughness when comparing silk to other materials. As shown below in detail, weight for weight, silk is stronger than steel, but not as strong as Kevlar. Silk is, however, tougher than both.
In detail a dragline silks’ tensile strength is comparable to that of high-grade alloy steel (450 - 1970 MPa), and about half as strong as aramid filaments, such as Twaron or Kevlar (3000 MPa).
Consisting of mainly protein, silks are about a sixth of the density of steel (1.31 g/cm3). As a result, a strand long enough to circle the Earth would weigh less than 500 grams (18 oz). (Spider dragline silk has a tensile strength of roughly 1.3 GPa. The tensile strength listed for steel might be slightly higher—e.g. 1.65 GPa, but spider silk is a much less dense material, so that a given weight of spider silk is five times as strong as the same weight of steel.)
The energy density of dragline spider silk is 1.2x108J/m3.
Silks are also especially ductile, with some able to stretch up to five times their relaxed length without breaking.
The combination of strength and ductility gives dragline silks a very high toughness (or work to fracture), which "equals that of commercial polyaramid (aromatic nylon) filaments, which themselves are benchmarks of modern polymer fiber technology".
Whilst unlikely to be relevant in nature, dragline silks can hold their strength below −40°C (-40°F) and up to 220°C (428°F).
When exposed to water, dragline silks undergo supercontraction, shrinking up to 50% in length and behaving like a weak rubber under tension. Many hypotheses have been suggested as to its use in nature, with the most popular being to automatically tension webs built in the night using the morning dew.]
The toughest known spider silk is produced by the species Darwin's bark spider (Caerostris darwini
): "The toughness of forcibly silked fibers averages 350 3MJ/m, with some samples reaching 520 MJ/m3. Thus, C. darwini
silk is more than twice as tough as any previously described silk, and over 10 times tougher than Kevlar".
Many species of spider have different glands to produce silk with different properties for different purposes, including housing, web construction, defense, capturing and detaining prey, egg protection, and mobility (gossamer for ballooning, or for a strand allowing the spider to drop down as silk is extruded). Different specialized silks have evolved with properties suitable for different uses. For example, Argiope argentata
has five different types of silk, each used for a different purpose:
Silks, as well as many other biomaterials, have a hierarchical structure (e.g., cellulose, hair). The primary structure is its amino acid sequence, mainly consisting of highly repetitive glycine and alanine blocks, which is why silks are often referred to as a block co-polymer. On a secondary structure level, the short side chained alanine is mainly found in the crystalline domains (beta sheets) of the nanofibril, glycine is mostly found in the so-called amorphous matrix consisting of helical and beta turn structures. It is the interplay between the hard crystalline segments, and the strained elastic semi-amorphous regions, that gives spider silk its extraordinary properties. Various compounds other than protein are used to enhance the fiber's properties. Pyrrolidine has hygroscopic properties and helps to keep the thread moist. It occurs in especially high concentration in glue threads. Potassium hydrogen phosphate releases protons in aqueous solution, resulting in a pH of about 4, making the silk acidic and thus protecting it from fungi and bacteria that would otherwise digest the protein. Potassium nitrate is believed to prevent the protein from denaturing in the acidic milieu.
This first very basic model of silk was introduced by Termonia in 1994 suggested crystallites embedded in an amorphous matrix interlinked with hydrogen bonds. This model has refined over the years: Semi-crystalline regions were found as well as a fibrillar skin core model suggested for spider silk, later visualized by AFM and TEM. Sizes of the nanofibrillar structure and the crystalline and semi-crystalline regions were revealed by neutron scattering.
Various compounds other than protein are found in spider silks, such as sugars, lipids, ions, and pigments that might affect the aggregation behaviour and act as a protection layer in the final fiber.
The production of silks, including spider silk, differs in an important respect from the production of most other fibrous biological materials: rather than being continuously grown as keratin in hair, cellulose in the cell walls of plants, or even the fibers formed from the compacted faecal matter of beetles, it is "spun" on demand from liquid silk precursor sometimes referred to as unspun silk dope, out of specialised glands.
The spinning process occurs when a fiber is pulled away from the body of a spider, be that by the spider’s legs, by the spider's falling and using its own weight, or by any other method including being pulled by humans. The name "spinning" is misleading as no rotation of any component occurs, but the name comes from when it was thought that spiders produced their thread in a similar manner to the spinning wheels of old. In fact the process is a pulltrusion—similar to extrusion, with the subtlety that the force is induced by pulling at the finished fiber rather than being squeezed out of a reservoir of some kind.
The unspun silk dope is pulled through silk glands, of which there may be both numerous duplicates and also different types on any one spider species.
The gland's visible, or external, part is termed the spinneret. Depending on the complexity of the species, spiders will have two to eight sets of spinnerets, usually in pairs. There exist highly different specialised glands in different spiders, ranging from simply a sac with an opening at one end, to the complex, multiple-section Major Ampullate glands of the Nephila golden orb weaving spiders.
Behind each spinneret visible on the surface of the spider lies a gland, a generalised form of which is shown in the figure to the right, "Schematic of a generalised gland".
The gland described here will be based upon the major ampullate gland from a golden orb weaving spiders as they are the most-studied and presumed to be the most complex.
Throughout the process the unspun silk appears to have a nematic texture, in a similar manner to a liquid crystal. This allows the unspun silk to flow through the duct as a liquid but maintain a molecular order.
As an example of a complex spinning field, the spinneret apparatus of an adult Araneus diadematus
(garden cross spider) consists of the following glands:
In order to artificially synthesize spider silk into fibers, there are two broad areas that must be covered. These are synthesis of the feedstock (the unspun silk dope in spiders), and synthesis of the spinning conditions (the funnel, valve, tapering duct, and spigot). There have been a number of different approaches discussed below.
As discussed in the Structural section of the article, the molecular structure of unspun silk is both complex and extremely long. Though this endows the silk fibers with their desirable properties, it also makes replication of the fiber somewhat of a challenge. Various organisms have been used as a basis for attempts to replicate some components or all of some or all of the proteins involved. These proteins must then be extracted, purified and then spun before their properties can be tested. The table below shows the results including the true gold standard- actual stress and strain of the fibers as compared to the best spider dragline.
As was shown in the biosynthesis section, spider silks with comparatively simple molecular structure need complex ducts to be able to spin an effective fiber. There have been a number of methods used to produce fibers, of which the main types are briefly discussed below.
Feedstock is simply forced through a hollow needle using a syringe. This method has been shown to make fibers successfully on multiple occasions.
Although very cheap and easy to assemble, the shape and conditions of the gland are very loosely approximated. Fibers created using this method may need encouragement to change from liquid to solid by removing the water from the fiber with such chemicals as the environmentally undesirable methanol or acetone, and also may require post-stretching of the fiber to attain fibers with desirable properties.
As the field of microfluidics matures, it is likely that more attempts to spin fibers will be made using microfluidics. These have the advantage of being very controllable and able to test spin very small volumes of unspun fiber but setup and development costs are likely to be high. A patent has been granted in this area for spinning fibers in a method mimicking the process found in nature, and fibers are successfully being continuously spun by a commercial company.
Electrospinning is a very old technique whereby a fluid is held in a container in a manner such that it is able to flow out through capillary action. A conducting substrate is positioned below, and a large difference in electrical potential is applied between the fluid and the substrate. The fluid is attracted to the substrate, and tiny fibers jump almost instantly from their point of emission, the Taylor cone, to the substrate, drying as they travel. This method has been shown to create nano-scale fibers from both silk dissected from organisms and regenerated silk fibroin.
Silk can be formed into other shapes and sizes such as spherical capsules for drug delivery, cell scaffolds and wound healing, textiles, cosmetics, coatings, and many others.
Due to spider silk being a scientific research field with a long and rich history, there can be unfortunate occurrences of researchers independently rediscovering previously published findings. What follows is a table of the discoveries made in each of the constituent areas, acknowledged by the scientific community as being relevant and significant by using the metric of scientific acceptance, citations. Thus, only papers with 50 or more citations are included.
Peasants in the southern Carpathian Mountains used to cut up tubes built by Atypus
and cover wounds with the inner lining. It reportedly facilitated healing, and even connected with the skin. This is believed to be due to antiseptic properties of spider silk and because the silk is rich in vitamin K, which can be effective in clotting blood.
Some fishermen in the Indo-Pacific ocean use the web of Nephila
to catch small fish.
The silk of Nephila clavipes
has recently been used to help in mammalian neuronal regeneration.
At one time, it was common to use spider silk as a thread for crosshairs in optical instruments such as telescopes, microscopes, and telescopic rifle sights.
Due to the difficulties in extracting and processing substantial amounts of spider silk, the largest known piece of cloth made of spider silk is an 11-by-4-foot (3.4 by 1.2 m) textile with a golden tint made in Madagascar in 2009. Eighty-two people worked for four years to collect over one million golden orb spiders and extract silk from them.
In 2011, spider silk fibers were used in the field of optics to generate very fine diffraction patterns over N-slit interferometric signals utilized in optical communications. In 2012, spider silk fibers were used to create a set of violin strings.
Spider silk is used to suspend inertial confinement fusion targets during laser ignition, as it remains considerably elastic and has a high energy to break at temperatures as low as 10-20K. In addition, it is made from "light" atomic number elements that won't emit x-rays during irradiation that could preheat the target so that the pressure differential required for fusion is not achieved.
Replicating the complex conditions required to produce fibers that are comparable to spider silk has proven difficult to accomplish in a laboratory environment. What follows is a miscellaneous list of attempts on this problem. However, in the absence of hard data accepted by the relevant scientific community, it is difficult to judge whether these attempts have been successful or constructive.
A spider web, spiderweb, spider's web, or cobweb (from the obsolete word coppe, meaning "spider") is a device created by a spider out of proteinaceous spider silk extruded from its spinnerets.
Spider webs have existed for at least 100 million years, as witnessed in a rare find of Early Cretaceous amber from Sussex, southern England. Insects can get trapped in spider webs, providing nutrition to the spider; however, not all spiders build webs to catch prey, and some do not build webs at all. "Spider web" is typically used to refer to a web that is apparently still in use (i.e. clean), whereas "cobweb" refers to abandoned (i.e. dusty) webs. However, "cobweb" is used to describe the tangled three-dimensional web of some spiders of the theridiidae family. Whilst this large family is also known as the tangle-web spiders, cobweb spiders and comb-footed spiders, they actually have a huge range of web architectures.
When spiders moved from the water to the land in the Early Devonian period, they started making silk to protect their bodies and their eggs. Spiders gradually started using silk for hunting purposes, first as guide lines and signal lines, then as ground or bush webs, and eventually as the aerial webs that are familiar today.
Spiders produce silk from their spinneret glands located at the tip of their abdomen. Each gland produces a thread for a special purpose – for example a trailed safety line, sticky silk for trapping prey or fine silk for wrapping it. Spiders use different gland types to produce different silks, and some spiders are capable of producing up to 8 different silks during their lifetime.
Most spiders have three pairs of spinnerets, each having its own function – there are also spiders with just one pair and others with as many as four pairs.
Webs allow a spider to catch prey without having to expend energy by running it down. Thus it is an efficient method of gathering food. However, constructing the web is in itself an energetically costly process because of the large amount of protein required, in the form of silk. In addition, after a time the silk will lose its stickiness and thus become inefficient at capturing prey. It is common for spiders to eat their own web daily to recoup some of the energy used in spinning. The silk proteins are thus recycled.
The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity. Its microstructure is under investigation for potential applications in industry, including bullet-proof vests and artificial tendons. Researchers have used genetically modified mammals to produce the proteins needed to make this material.
There are a few types of spider webs found in the wild, and many spiders are classified by the webs they weave. Different types of spider webs include:
Several different types of silk may be used in web construction, including a "sticky" capture silk and "fluffy" capture silk, depending on the type of spider. Webs may be in a vertical plane (most orb webs), a horizontal plane (sheet webs), or at any angle in between. It is hypothesized that these types of aerial webs co-evolved with the evolution of winged insects. As insects are spiders' main prey, it is likely that they would impose strong selectional forces on the foraging behavior of spiders. Most commonly found in the sheet-web spider families, some webs will have loose, irregular tangles of silk above them. These tangled obstacle courses serve to disorient and knock down flying insects, making them more vulnerable to being trapped on the web below. They may also help to protect the spider from predators such as birds and wasps.
During the process of making an orb web, the spider will use its own body for measurements.
Many webs span gaps between objects which the spider could not cross by crawling. This is done by letting out a first fine adhesive thread to drift on the faintest breeze across a gap. When it sticks to a surface at the far end, this is felt by a change in the vibrations transmitted back to the spider; the spider then reels in and tighten the first strand, then carefully walks along it and strengthens it with a second thread. This process is repeated until the thread is strong enough to support the rest of the web.
After strengthening the first thread, the spider continues to make a Y-shaped netting. The first three radials of the web are now constructed. More radials are added, making sure that the distance between each radial and the next is small enough to cross. This means that the number of radials in a web directly depends on the size of the spider plus the size of the web. It is common for a web to be about 20 times the size of the spider building it.
After the radials are complete, the spider fortifies the center of the web with about five circular threads. Then a spiral of non-sticky, widely spaced threads is made to enable the spider to move easily around its own web during construction, working from the inside out. Then, beginning from the outside in, the spider methodically replaces this spiral with another, more closely spaced one of adhesive threads. It uses the initial radiating lines as well as the non-sticky spirals as guide lines. The spaces between each spiral and the next are directly proportional to the distance from the tip of its back legs to its spinners. This is one way the spider uses its own body as a measuring/spacing device. While the sticky spirals are formed, the non-adhesive spirals are removed as there is no need for them any more.
After the spider has completed its web, it chews off the initial three center spiral threads then sits and waits. If the web is broken without any structural damage during the construction, the spider does not make any initial attempts to rectify the problem.
The spider, after spinning its web, then waits on or near the web for a prey animal to become trapped. The spider senses the impact and struggle of a prey animal by vibrations transmitted through the web. A spider positioned in the middle of the web makes for a highly visible prey for birds and other predators, even without web decorations; many day-hunting orb-web spinners reduce this risk by hiding at the edge of the web with one foot on a signal line from the hub or by appearing to be inedible or unappetizing.
Spiders do not usually adhere to their own webs, because they are able to spin both sticky and non-sticky types of silk, and are careful to travel across only non-sticky portions of the web. However, they are not immune to their own glue. Some of the strands of the web are sticky, and others are not. For example, if a spider has chosen to wait along the outer edges of its web, it may spin a non-sticky prey or signal line to the web hub to monitor web movement.
Some species of spider do not use webs for capturing prey directly, instead pouncing from concealment (e.g. trapdoor spiders) or running them down in open chase (e.g. wolf spiders). The net-casting spider balances the two methods of running and web spinning in its feeding habits. This spider weaves a small net which it attaches to its front legs. It then lurks in wait for potential prey and, when such prey arrives, lunges forward to wrap its victim in the net, bite and paralyze it. Hence, this spider expends less energy catching prey than a primitive hunter such as the wolf spider. It also avoids the energy loss of weaving a large orb web.
Some spiders manage to use the signaling-snare technique of a web without spinning a web at all. Several types of water-dwelling spiders rest their feet on the water's surface in much the same manner as an orb-web user. When an insect falls onto the water and is ensnared by surface tension, the spider can detect the vibrations and run out to capture the prey.
Cobweb paintings, which began during the 16th century in a remote valley of the Austrian Tyrolean Alps, were created on fabrics consisting of layered and wound cobwebs, stretched over cardboard to make a mat, and strengthened by brushing with milk diluted in water. A small brush was then used to apply watercolor to the cobwebs, or custom tools to create engravings. Fewer than a hundred cobweb paintings survive today, most of which are held in private collections.
In traditional European medicine, cobwebs are used on wounds and cuts and seem to help healing and reduce bleeding. Spider webs are rich in vitamin K, which can be effective in clotting blood. Webs were used several hundred years ago as gauze pads to stop an injured person's bleeding.
The stickiness of spiders' webs is courtesy of droplets of glue suspended on the silk threads. This glue is multifunctional – that is, its behaviour depends on how quickly something touching it attempts to withdraw. At high velocities, they function as an elastic solid, resembling rubber; at lower velocities, they simply act as a sticky glue. This allows them to retain a grip on attached food particles.
Occasionally, a group of spiders may build webs together in the same area. One such web, reported in 2007 at Lake Tawakoni State Park in Texas, measured 200 yards (180 m) across. Entomologists believe it may be the result of social cobweb spiders or of spiders building webs to spread out from one another. There is no consensus on how common this occurrence is.
Administering certain drugs to spiders affects the structure of the webs they build. It has been proposed by some that this could be used as a method of documenting and measuring the toxicity of various substances.
It has been observed that being in Earth's orbit has an effect on the structure of spider webs in space.
Spider webs were spun in low earth orbit in 1973 aboard Skylab, involving two female European garden spiders (cross spiders) called Arabella and Anita, as part of an experiment on the Skylab 3 mission. The aim of the experiment was to test whether the two spiders would spin webs in space, and, if so, whether these webs would be the same as those that spiders produced on Earth. The experiment was a student project of Judy Miles of Lexington, Massachusetts.
After the launch on July 28, 1973, and entering Skylab, the spiders were released by astronaut Owen Garriott into a box that resembled a window frame. The spiders proceeded to construct their web while a camera took photographs and examined the spiders' behavior in a zero-gravity environment. Both spiders took a long time to adapt to their weightless existence. However, after a day, Arabella spun the first web in the experimental cage, although it was initially incomplete.
The web was completed the following day. The crew members were prompted to expand the initial protocol. They fed and watered the spiders, giving them a house fly. The first web was removed on August 13 to allow the spider to construct a second web. At first, the spider failed to construct a new web. When given more water, it built a second web. This time, it was more elaborate than the first. Both spiders died during the mission, possibly from dehydration.
When scientists were given the opportunity to study the webs, they discovered that the space webs were finer than normal Earth webs, and although the patterns of the web were not totally dissimilar, variations were spotted, and there was a definite difference in the characteristics of the web. Additionally, while the webs were finer overall, the space web had variations in thickness in places: some places were slightly thinner, and others slightly thicker. This was unusual, because Earth webs have been observed to have uniform thickness.
Spider webs play a crucial role in the children's novel Charlotte's Web. Webs are also featured in many other cultural depictions of spiders.
Spider webs are used by the superhero Spider-Man as a method of quick transportation.
See table of families
Spiders (order Araneae) are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms. Spiders are found worldwide on every continent except for Antarctica, and have become established in nearly every habitat with the exception of air and sea colonization. As of 2008, at least 43,678 spider species, and 109 families have been recorded by taxonomists; however, there has been confusion within the scientific community as to how all these families should be classified, as evidenced by the over 20 different classifications that have been proposed since 1900.
Anatomically, spiders differ from other arthropods in that the usual body segments are fused into two tagmata, the cephalothorax and abdomen, and joined by a small, cylindrical pedicel. Unlike insects, spiders do not have antennae. In all except the most primitive group, the Mesothelae, spiders have the most centralized nervous systems of all arthropods, as all their ganglia are fused into one mass in the cephalothorax. Unlike most arthropods, spiders have no extensor muscles in their limbs and instead extend them by hydraulic pressure.
Their abdomens bear appendages that have been modified into spinnerets that extrude silk from up to six types of silk glands within their abdomen. Spider webs vary widely in size, shape and the amount of sticky thread used. It now appears that the spiral orb web may be one of the earliest forms, and spiders that produce tangled cobwebs are more abundant and diverse than orb-web spiders. Spider-like arachnids with silk-producing spigots appeared in the Devonian period about , but these animals apparently lacked spinnerets. True spiders have been found in Carboniferous rocks from , and are very similar to the most primitive surviving order, the Mesothelae. The main groups of modern spiders, Mygalomorphae and Araneomorphae, first appeared in the Triassic period, before .
A herbivorous species, Bagheera kiplingi, was described in 2008, but all other known species are predators, mostly preying on insects and on other spiders, although a few large species also take birds and lizards. Spiders use a wide range of strategies to capture prey: trapping it in sticky webs, lassoing it with sticky bolas, mimicking the prey to avoid detection, or running it down. Most detect prey mainly by sensing vibrations, but the active hunters have acute vision, and hunters of the genus Portia show signs of intelligence in their choice of tactics and ability to develop new ones. Spiders' guts are too narrow to take solids, and they liquidize their food by flooding it with digestive enzymes and grinding it with the bases of their pedipalps, as they do not have true jaws.
Male spiders identify themselves by a variety of complex courtship rituals to avoid being eaten by the females. Males of most species survive a few matings, limited mainly by their short life spans. Females weave silk egg-cases, each of which may contain hundreds of eggs. Females of many species care for their young, for example by carrying them around or by sharing food with them. A minority of species are social, building communal webs that may house anywhere from a few to 50,000 individuals. Social behavior ranges from precarious toleration, as in the widow spiders, to co-operative hunting and food-sharing. Although most spiders live for at most two years, tarantulas and other mygalomorph spiders can live up to 25 years in captivity.
While the venom of a few species is dangerous to humans, scientists are now researching the use of spider venom in medicine and as non-polluting pesticides. Spider silk provides a combination of lightness, strength and elasticity that is superior to that of synthetic materials, and spider silk genes have been inserted into mammals and plants to see if these can be used as silk factories. As a result of their wide range of behaviors, spiders have become common symbols in art and mythology symbolizing various combinations of patience, cruelty and creative powers.
Spiders are chelicerates and therefore arthropods. As arthropods they have: segmented bodies with jointed limbs, all covered in a cuticle made of chitin and proteins; heads that are composed of several segments that fuse during the development of the embryo. Being chelicerates, their bodies consist of two tagmata, sets of segments that serve similar functions: the foremost one, called the cephalothorax or prosoma, is a complete fusion of the segments that in an insect would form two separate tagmata, the head and thorax; the rear tagma is called the abdomen or opisthosoma. In spiders the cephalothorax and abdomen are connected by a small cylindrical section, the pedicel. The pattern of segment fusion that forms chelicerates' heads is unique among arthropods, and what would normally be the first head segment disappears at an early stage of development, so that chelicerates lack the antennae typical of most arthropods. In fact chelicerates' only appendages ahead of the mouth are a pair of chelicerae, and they lack anything that would function directly as "jaws". The first appendages behind the mouth are called pedipalps, and serve different functions within different groups of chelicerates.
Spiders and scorpions are members of one chelicerate group, the arachnids. Scorpions' chelicerae have three sections and are used in feeding. Spiders' chelicerae have two sections and terminate in fangs that are generally venomous, and fold away behind the upper sections while not in use. The upper sections generally have thick "beards" that filter solid lumps out of their food, as spiders can take only liquid food. Scorpions' pedipalps generally form large claws for capturing prey, while those of spiders are fairly small appendages whose bases also act as an extension of the mouth; in addition those of male spiders have enlarged last sections used for sperm transfer.
In spiders the cephalothorax and abdomen are joined by a small, cylindrical pedicel, which enables the abdomen to move independently when producing silk. The upper surface of the cephalothorax is covered by a single, convex carapace while the underside is covered by two rather flat plates. The abdomen is soft and egg-shaped. It shows no sign of segmentation, except that the primitive Mesothelae, whose living members are the Liphistiidae, have segmented plates on the upper surface.
Like other arthropods, spiders are coelomates in which the coelom is reduced to small areas round the reproductive and excretory systems. Its place is largely taken by a hemocoel, a cavity that runs most of the length of the body and through which blood flows. The heart is a tube in the upper part of the body, with a few ostia that act as non-return valves allowing blood to enter the heart from the hemocoel but prevent it from leaving before it reaches the front end. However, in spiders it occupies only the upper part of the abdomen, and blood is discharged into the hemocoel by one artery that opens at the rear end of the abdomen and by branching arteries that pass through the pedicle and open into several parts of the cephalothorax. Hence spiders have open circulatory systems. The blood of many spiders that have book lungs contains the respiratory pigment hemocyanin to make oxygen transport more efficient.
Spiders have developed several different respiratory anatomies, based on book lungs, a tracheal system, or both. Mygalomorph and Mesothelae spiders have two pairs of book lungs filled with haemolymph, where openings on the ventral surface of the abdomen allow air to enter and diffuse oxygen. This is also the case for some basal araneomorph spiders like the family Hypochilidae, but the remaining members of this group have just the anterior pair of book lungs intact while the posterior pair of breathing organs are partly or fully modified into tracheae, through which oxygen is diffused into the haemolymph or directly to the tissue and organs. The trachea system has most likely evolved in small ancestors to help resist desiccation. The trachea were originally connected to the surroundings through a pair of openings called spiracles, but in the majority of spiders this pair of spiracles has fused into a single one in the middle, and moved backwards close to the spinnerets. Spiders that have tracheae generally have higher metabolic rates and better water conservation.
Uniquely among chelicerates, the final sections of spiders' chelicerae are fangs, and the great majority of spiders can use them to inject venom into prey from venom glands in the roots of the chelicerae. The family Uloboridae has lost its venom glands, and kills its prey with silk instead. Like most arachnids including scorpions, spiders have a narrow gut that can only cope with liquid food and spiders have two sets of filters to keep solids out. They use one of two different systems of external digestion. Some pump digestive enzymes from the midgut into the prey and then suck the liquified tissues of the prey into the gut, eventually leaving behind the empty husk of the prey. Others grind the prey to pulp using the chelicerae and the bases of the pedipalps, while flooding it with enzymes; in these species the chelicerae and the bases of the pedipalps form a preoral cavity that holds the food they are processing.
The stomach in the cephalothorax acts as a pump that sends the food deeper into the digestive system. The mid gut bears many digestive ceca, compartments with no other exit, that extract nutrients from the food; most are in the abdomen, which is dominated by the digestive system, but a few are found in the cephalothorax.
Most spiders convert nitrogenous waste products into uric acid, which can be excreted as a dry material. Malphigian tubules ("little tubes") extract these wastes from the blood in the hemocoel and dump them into the cloacal chamber, from which they are expelled through the anus. Production of uric acid and its removal via Malphigian tubules are a water-conserving feature that has evolved independently in several arthropod lineages that can live far away from water, for example the tubules of insects and arachnids develop from completely different parts of the embryo. However a few primitive spiders, the sub-order Mesothelae and infra-order Mygalomorphae, retain the ancestral arthropod nephridia ("little kidneys"), which use large amounts of water to excrete nitrogenous waste products as ammonia.
The basic arthropod central nervous system consists of a pair of nerve cords running below the gut, with paired ganglia as local control centers in all segments; a brain formed by fusion of the ganglia for the head segments ahead of and behind the mouth, so that the esophagus is encircled by this conglomeration of ganglia. Except for the primitive Mesothelae, of which the Liphistiidae are the sole surviving family, spiders have the much more centralized nervous system that is typical of arachnids: all the ganglia of all segments behind the esophagus are fused, so that the cephalothorax is largely filled with nervous tissue and there are no ganglia in the abdomen; in the Mesothelae, the ganglia of the abdomen and the rear part of the cephalothorax remain unfused.
Most spiders have four pairs of eyes on the top-front area of the cephalothorax, arranged in patterns that vary from one family to another. The pair at the front are of the type called pigment-cup ocelli ("little eyes"), which in most arthropods are only capable of detecting the direction from which light is coming, using the shadow cast by the walls of the cup. However the main eyes at the front of spiders' heads are pigment-cup ocelli that are capable of forming images. The other eyes are thought to be derived from the compound eyes of the ancestral chelicerates, but no longer have the separate facets typical of compound eyes. Unlike the main eyes, in many spiders these secondary eyes detect light reflected from a reflective tapetum lucidum, and wolf spiders can be spotted by torch light reflected from the tapeta. On the other hand jumping spiders' secondary eyes have no tapeta. Some jumping spiders' visual acuity exceeds by a factor of ten that of dragonflies, which have by far the best vision among insects; in fact the human eye is only about five times sharper than a jumping spider's. They achieve this by a telephoto-like series of lenses, a four-layer retina and the ability to swivel their eyes and integrate images from different stages in the scan. The downside is that the scanning and integrating processes are relatively slow.
As with other arthropods, spiders' cuticles would block out information about the outside world, except that they are penetrated by many sensors or connections from sensors to the nervous system. In fact spiders and other arthropods have modified their cuticles into elaborate arrays of sensors. Various touch sensors, mostly bristles called setae, respond to different levels of force, from strong contact to very weak air currents. Chemical sensors provide equivalents of taste and smell, often by means of setae. Spiders also have in the joints of their limbs slit sensillae that detect forces and vibrations. In web-building spiders all these mechanical and chemical sensors are more important than the eyes, while the eyes are most important to spiders that hunt actively.
Like most arthropods, spiders lack balance and acceleration sensors and rely on their eyes to tell them which way is up. Arthropods' proprioceptors, sensors that report the force exerted by muscles and the degree of bending in the body and joints, are well understood. On the other hand little is known about what other internal sensors spiders or other arthropods may have.
Each of the eight legs of a spider consists of seven distinct parts. The part closest to and attaching the leg to the cephalothorax is the coxa; the next segment is the short trochanter that works as a hinge for the following long segment, the femur; next is the spider's knee, the patella, which acts as the hinge for the tibia; the metatarsus is next, and it connects the tibia to the tarsus (which may be thought of as a foot of sorts); the tarsus ends in a claw made up of either two or three points, depending on the family to which the spider belongs. Although all arthropods use muscles attached to the inside of the exoskeleton to flex their limbs, spiders and a few other groups still use hydraulic pressure to extend them, a system inherited from their pre-arthropod ancestors. The only extensor muscles in spider legs are located in the three hip joints (bordering the coxa and the trochanter). As a result a spider with a punctured cephalothorax cannot extend its legs, and the legs of dead spiders curl up. Spiders can generate pressures up to eight times their resting level to extend their legs, and jumping spiders can jump up to 50 times their own length by suddenly increasing the blood pressure in the third or fourth pair of legs. Unlike smaller jumping spiders, though larger spiders use hydraulics to straighten their legs, they depend on their flexor muscles to generate the propulsive force for their jumps.
Most spiders that hunt actively, rather than relying on webs, have dense tufts of fine hairs between the paired claws at the tips of their legs. These tufts, known as scopulae, consist of bristles whose ends are split into as many as 1,000 branches, and enable spiders with scopulae to walk up vertical glass and upside down on ceilings. It appears that scopulae get their grip from contact with extremely thin layers of water on surfaces. Spiders, like most other arachnids, keep at least four legs on the surface while walking or running.
The abdomen has no appendages except those that have been modified to form one to four (usually three) pairs of short, movable spinnerets, which emit silk. Each spinneret has many spigots, each of which is connected to one silk gland. There are at least six types of silk gland, each producing a different type of silk.
Silk is mainly composed of a protein very similar to that used in insect silk. It is initially a liquid, and hardens not by exposure to air but as a result of being drawn out, which changes the internal structure of the protein. It is similar in tensile strength to nylon and biological materials such as chitin, collagen and cellulose, but is much more elastic, in other words it can stretch much further before breaking or losing shape.
Some spiders have a cribellum, a modified spinneret with up to 40,000 spigots, each of which produces a single very fine fiber. The fibers are pulled out by the calamistrum, a comb-like set of bristles on the jointed tip of the cribellum, and combined into a composite woolly thread that is very effective in snagging the bristles of insects. The earliest spiders had cribella, which produced the first silk capable of capturing insects, before spiders developed silk coated with sticky droplets. However most modern groups of spiders have lost the cribellum.
Tarantulas also have silk glands in their feet.
Even species that do not build webs to catch prey use silk in several ways: as wrappers for sperm and for fertilized eggs; as a "safety rope"; for nest-building; and as "parachutes" by the young of some species.
Spiders reproduce sexually and fertilization is internal but indirect, in other words the sperm is not inserted into the female's body by the male's genitals but by an intermediate stage. Unlike many land-living arthropods, male spiders do not produce ready-made spermatophores (packages of sperm) but spin small sperm webs on to which they ejaculate and then transfer the sperm to syringe-like structures on the tips of their pedipalps. When a male detects signs of a female nearby he checks whether she is of the same species and whether she is ready to mate; for example in species that produce webs or "safety ropes", the male can identify the species and sex of these objects by "smell".
Spiders generally use elaborate courtship rituals to prevent the large females from eating the small males before fertilization, except where the male is so much smaller that he is not worth eating. In web-weaving species precise patterns of vibrations in the web are a major part of the rituals, while patterns of touches on the female's body are important in many spiders that hunt actively, and may "hypnotize" the female. Gestures and dances by the male are important for jumping spiders, which have excellent eyesight. If courtship is successful, the male injects his sperm from the pedipalps into the female's genital opening, known as the epigyne, on the underside of her abdomen. Female's reproductive tracts vary from simple tubes to systems that include seminal receptacles in which females store sperm and release it when they are ready.
Males of the genus Tidarren amputate one of their palps before maturation and enter adult life with one palp only. The palps are 20% of male's body mass in this species, and detaching one of the two improves mobility. In the Yemeni species Tidarren argo, the remaining palp is then torn off by the female. The separated palp remains attached to the female's epigynum for about four hours and apparently continues to function independently. In the meantime the female feeds on the palpless male. In over 60% of cases the female of the Australian redback spider kills and eats the male after it inserts its second palp into the female's genital opening; in fact the males co-operate by trying to impale themselves on the females' fangs. Observation shows that most male redbacks never get an opportunity to mate, and the "lucky" ones increase the likely number of offspring by ensuring that the females are well-fed. However males of most species survive a few matings, limited mainly by their short life spans. Some even live for a while in their mates' webs.
Females lay up to 3,000 eggs in one or more silk egg sacs, which maintain a fairly constant humidity level. In some species the females die afterwards, but females of other species protect the sacs by attaching them to their webs, hiding them in nests, carrying them in the chelicerae or attaching them to the spinnerets and dragging them along.
Baby spiders pass all their larval stages inside the egg and hatch as spiderlings, very small and sexually immature but similar in shape to adults. Some spiders care for their young, for example a wolf spider's brood cling to rough bristles on the mother's back, and females of some species respond to the "begging" behaviour of their young by giving them their prey, provided it is no longer struggling, or even regurgitate food.
Like other arthropods, spiders have to molt to grow as their cuticle ("skin") cannot stretch. In some species males mate with newly molted females, which are too weak to be dangerous to the males. Most spiders live for only one to two years, although some tarantulas can live in captivity for over 20 years.
Spiders occur in a large range of sizes. The smallest, Patu digua from Colombia, are less than 0.37 mm (0.015 in) in body length. The largest and heaviest spiders occur among tarantulas, which can have body lengths up to 90 mm (3.5 in) and leg spans up to 250 mm (9.8 in).
Only three classes of pigment (ommochromes, bilins and guanine) have been identified in spiders, although other pigments have been detected but not yet characterized. Melanins, carotenoids and pterins, very common in other animals, are apparently absent. In some species the exocuticle of the legs and prosoma is modified by a tanning process, resulting in brown coloration. Bilins are found, for example, in Micrommata virescens, resulting in its green color. Guanine is responsible for the white markings of the European garden spider Araneus diadematus. It is in many species accumulated in specialized cells called guanocytes. In genera such as Tetragnatha, Leucauge, Argyrodes or Theridiosoma, guanine creates their silvery appearance. While guanine is originally an end-product of protein metabolism, its excretion can be blocked in spiders, leading to an increase in its storage. Structural colors occur in some species, which are the result of the diffraction, scattering or interference of light, for example by modified setae or scales. The white prosoma of Argiope results from hairs reflecting the light, Lycosa and Josa both have areas of modified cuticle that act as light reflectors.
Although spiders are generally regarded as predatory, the jumping spider Bagheera kiplingi gets over 90% of its food from fairly solid plant material produced by acacias as part of a mutually beneficial relationship with a species of ant.
Juveniles of some spiders in the families Anyphaenidae, Corinnidae, Clubionidae, Thomisidae and Salticidae feed on plant nectar. Laboratory studies show that they do so deliberately and over extended periods, and periodically clean themselves while feeding. These spiders also prefer sugar solutions to plain water, which indicates that they are seeking nutrients. Since many spiders are nocturnal, the extent of nectar consumption by spiders may have been underestimated. Nectar contains amino acids, lipids, vitamins and minerals in addition to sugars, and studies have shown that other spider species live longer when nectar is available. Feeding on nectar avoids the risks of struggles with prey, and the costs of producing venom and digestive enzymes.
Various species are known to feed on dead arthropods (scavenging), web silk, and their own shed exoskeletons. Pollen caught in webs may also be eaten, and studies have shown that young spiders have a better chance of survival if they have the opportunity to eat pollen. In captivity, several spider species are also known to feed on bananas, marmalade, milk, egg yolk and sausages.
The best-known method of prey capture is by means of sticky webs. Varying placement of webs allows different species of spider to trap different insects in the same area, for example flat horizontal webs trap insects that fly up from vegetation underneath while flat vertical webs trap insects in horizontal flight. Web-building spiders have poor vision, but are extremely sensitive to vibrations.
Females of the water spider Argyroneta aquatica build underwater "diving bell" webs which they fill with air and use for digesting prey, molting, mating and raising offspring. They live almost entirely within the bells, darting out to catch prey animals that touch the bell or the threads that anchor it. A few spiders use the surfaces of lakes and ponds as "webs", detecting trapped insects by the vibrations that these cause while struggling.
Net-casting spiders weave only small webs but then manipulate them to trap prey. Those of the genus Hyptiotes and the family Theridiosomatidae stretch their webs and then release them when prey strike them, but do not actively move their webs. Those of the family Deinopidae weave even smaller webs, hold them outstretched between their first two pairs of legs, and lunge and push the webs as much as twice their own body length to trap prey, and this move may increase the webs' area by a factor of up to ten. Experiments have shown that Deinopis spinosus has two different techniques for trapping prey: backwards strikes to catch flying insects, whose vibrations it detects; and forward strikes to catch ground-walking prey that it sees. These two techniques have also been observed in other deinopids. Walking insects form most of the prey of most deinopids, but one population of Deinopis subrufa appears to live mainly on tipulid flies that they catch with the backwards strike.
Mature female bolas spiders of the genus Mastophora build "webs" that consist of only a single "trapeze line", which they patrol. They also construct a bolas made of a single thread, tipped with a large ball of very wet sticky silk. They emit chemicals that resemble the pheromones of moths, and then swing the bolas at the moths. Although they miss on about 50% of strikes, they catch about the same weight of insects per night as web-weaving spiders of similar size. The spiders eat the bolas if they have not made a kill in about 30 minutes, rest for a while, and then make new bolas. Juveniles and adult males are much smaller and do not make bolas. Instead they release different pheromones that attract moth flies, and catch them with their front pairs of legs.
The primitive Liphistiidae, the "trapdoor spiders" (family Ctenizidae) and many tarantulas are ambush predators that lurk in burrows, often closed by trapdoors and often surrounded by networks of silk threads that alert these spiders to the presence of prey. Other ambush predators do without such aids, including many crab spiders, and a few species that prey on bees, which see ultraviolet, can adjust their ultraviolet reflectance to match the flowers in which they are lurking. Wolf spiders, jumping spiders, fishing spiders and some crab spiders capture prey by chasing it, and rely mainly on vision to locate prey.
Some jumping spiders of the genus Portia hunt other spiders in ways that seem intelligent, outflanking their victims or luring them from their webs. Laboratory studies show that Portia's instinctive tactics are only starting points for a trial-and-error approach from which these spiders learn very quickly how to overcome new prey species. However they seem to be relatively slow "thinkers", which is not surprising, as their brains are vastly smaller than those of mammalian predators.
Ant-mimicking spiders face several challenges: they generally develop slimmer abdomens and false "waists" in the cephalothorax to mimic the three distinct regions (tagmata) of an ant's body; they wave the first pair of legs in form to their heads to mimic antennae, which spiders lack, and to conceal the fact that they have eight legs rather than six; they develop large color patches round one pair of eyes to disguise the fact that they generally have eight simple eyes, while ants have two compound eyes; they cover their bodies with reflective hairs to resemble the shiny bodies of ants. In some spider species, males and females mimic different ant species, as female spiders are usually much larger than males. Ant-mimicking spiders also modify their behavior to resemble that of the target species of ant; for example, many adopt a zig-zag pattern of movement, ant-mimicking jumping spiders avoid jumping, and spiders of the genus Synemosyna walk on the outer edges of leaves in the same way as Pseudomyrmex. Ant-mimicry in many spiders and other arthropods may be for protection from predators that hunt by sight, including birds, lizards and spiders. However, several ant-mimicking spiders prey either on ants or on the ants' "livestock", such as aphids. When at rest, the ant-mimicking crab spider Amyciaea does not closely resemble Oecophylla, but while hunting it imitates the behavior of a dying ant to attract worker ants. After a kill, some ant-mimicking spiders hold their victims between themselves and large groups of ants to avoid being attacked.
There is strong evidence that spiders' coloration is camouflage that helps them to evade their major predators, birds and parasitic wasps, both of which have good color vision. Many spider species are colored so as to merge with their most common backgrounds, and some have disruptive coloration, stripes and blotches that break up their outlines. In a few species, such as the Hawaiian happy-face spider, Theridion grallator, several coloration schemes are present in a ratio that appears to remain constant, and this may make it more difficult for predators to recognize the species. Most spiders are insufficiently dangerous or unpleasant-tasting for warning coloration to offer much benefit. However a few species with powerful venoms, large jaws or irritant hairs have patches of warning colors, and some actively display these colors when threatened.
Many of the family Theraphosidae, which includes tarantulas and baboon spiders, have urticating hairs on their abdomens and use their legs to flick them at attackers. These hairs are fine setae (bristles) with fragile bases and a row of barbs on the tip. The barbs cause intense irritation but there is no evidence that they carry any kind of venom. A few defend themselves against wasps by including networks of very robust threads in their webs, giving the spider time to flee while the wasps are struggling with the obstacles. The golden wheeling spider, Carparachne aureoflava, of the Namibian desert escapes parasitic wasps by flipping onto its side and cartwheeling down sand dunes.
A few species of spiders that build webs live together in large colonies and show social behavior, although not as complex as in social insects. Anelosimus eximius (in the family Theridiidae) can form colonies of up to 50,000 individuals. The genus Anelosimus has a strong tendency towards sociality: all known American species are social, and species in Madagascar are at least somewhat social. Members of other species in the same family but several different genera have independently developed social behavior. For example, although Theridion nigroannulatum belongs to a genus with no other social species, T. nigroannulatum build colonies that may contain several thousand individuals that co-operate in prey capture and share food. Other communal spiders include several Philoponella species (family Uloboridae), Agelena consociata (family Agelenidae) and Mallos gregalis (family Dictynidae). Social predatory spiders need to defend their prey against kleptoparasites ("thieves"), and larger colonies are more successful in this. The herbivorous spider Bagheera kiplingi lives in small colonies which help to protect eggs and spiderlings. Even widow spiders (genus Latrodectus), which are notoriously cannibalistic, have formed small colonies in captivity, sharing webs and feeding together.
There is no consistent relationship between the classification of spiders and the types of web they build: species in the same genera may build very similar or significantly different webs. Nor is there much correspondence between spiders' classification and the chemical composition of their silks. Convergent evolution in web construction, in other words use of similar techniques by remotely related species, is rampant. Non-orb web designs and the spinning behaviors that produce them have received very little attention from arachnologists, despite the fact that the majority of spiders build non-orb webs. The basic radial-then-spiral sequence visible in orb webs and the sense of direction required to build them may have been inherited from the common ancestors of most spider groups. It used to be thought that the sticky orb web was an evolutionary innovation resulting in the diversification of the Orbiculariae. Now, however, it appears that non-orb spiders are a sub-group that evolved from orb-web spiders, and non-orb spiders have over 40% more species and are four times as abundant as orb-web spiders. Their greater success may be because sphecid wasps, which are often the dominant predators on spiders, much prefer to attack spiders that have flat webs.
About half the potential prey that hit orb webs escape. A web has to perform three functions: intercepting the prey (intersection); absorbing its momentum without breaking (stopping); and trapping the prey by entangling it or sticking to it (retention). No single design is best for all prey. For example: wider spacing of lines will increase the web's area and hence its ability to intercept prey, but reduce its stopping power and retention; closer spacing, larger sticky droplets and thicker lines would improve retention, but would make it easier for potential prey to see and avoid the web, at least during the day. However there are no consistent differences between orb webs built for use during the day and those built for use at night. In fact there is no simple relationship between orb web design features and the prey they capture, as each orb-weaving species takes a wide range of prey.
The hubs of orb webs, where the spiders lurk, are usually above the center as the spiders can move downwards faster than upwards. If there is an obvious direction in which the spider can retreat to avoid its own predators, the hub is usually offset towards that direction.
Horizontal orb webs are fairly common, despite being less effective at intercepting and retaining prey and more vulnerable to damage by rain and falling debris. Various researchers have suggested that horizontal webs offer compensating advantages, such as: reduced vulnerability to wind damage; reduced visibility to prey flying upwards, because of the back-lighting from the sky; enabling oscillations to catch insects in slow horizontal flight. However there is no single explanation for the common use of horizontal orb webs.
Spiders often attach highly visible silk bands called decorations or stabilimenta to their webs. Field research suggests that webs with more decorative bands captured more prey per hour. However a laboratory study showed that spiders reduce the building of these decorations if they sense the presence of predators.
There are several unusual variants of orb web, many of them convergently evolved, including: attachment of lines to the surface of water, possibly to trap insects in or on the surface; webs with twigs through their centers, possibly to hide the spiders from predators; "ladder-like" webs that appear most effective in catching moths. However the significance of many variations is unclear.
In 1973, Skylab 3 took two orb-web spiders into space to test their web-spinning capabilities in zero gravity. At first both produced rather sloppy webs, but they adapted quickly.
Members of the family Theridiidae weave irregular, tangled, three-dimensional webs, popularly known as cobwebs. There seems to be an evolutionary trend towards a reduction in the amount of sticky silk used, leading to its total absence in some species. The construction of cobwebs is less stereotyped than that of orb-webs, and may take several days.
The Linyphiidae generally make horizontal but uneven sheets, with tangles of stopping threads above. Insects that hit the stopping threads fall onto the sheet or are shaken onto it by the spider, and are held by sticky threads on the sheet until the spider can attack from below.
Although the fossil record of spiders is considered poor, almost 1000 species have been described from fossils. Because spiders' bodies are quite soft, the vast majority of fossil spiders have been found preserved in amber. The oldest known amber that contains fossil arthropods dates from in the Early Cretaceous period. In addition to preserving spiders' anatomy in very fine detail, pieces of amber show spiders mating, killing prey, producing silk and possibly caring for their young. In a few cases amber has preserved spiders' egg sacs and webs, occasionally with prey attached; the oldest fossil web found so far is 100 million years old. Earlier spider fossils come from a few lagerstätten, places where conditions were exceptionally suited to preserving fairly soft tissues.
The oldest known arachnid is the trigonotarbid Palaeotarbus jerami, from about in the Silurian period, and had a triangular cephalothorax and segmented abdomen, as well as eight legs and a pair of pedipalps. Attercopus fimbriunguis, from in the Devonian period, bears the earliest known silk-producing spigots, and was therefore hailed as a spider. However these spigots may have been mounted on the underside of the abdomen rather than on spinnerets, which are modified appendages and whose mobility is important in the building of webs. Hence Attercopus and the similar Permian arachnid Permarachne may not have been true spiders, and probably used silk for lining nests or producing egg-cases rather than for building webs. The largest known fossil spider as of 2011 is the araneid Nephila jurassica, from about , recorded from Daohuogo, Inner Mongolia in China. Its body length is almost 25 mm, (i.e., almost one inch).
Several Carboniferous spiders were members of the Mesothelae, a primitive group now represented only by the Liphistiidae. The mesothelid Paleothele montceauensis, from the Late Carboniferous over , had five spinnerets. Although the Permian period saw rapid diversification of flying insects, there are very few fossil spiders from this period.
The main groups of modern spiders, Mygalomorphae and Araneomorphae, first appear in the Triassic well before . Some Triassic mygalomorphs appear to be members of the family Hexathelidae, whose modern members include the notorious Sydney funnel-web spider, and their spinnerets appear adapted for building funnel-shaped webs to catch jumping insects. Araneomorphae account for the great majority of modern spiders, including those that weave the familiar orb-shaped webs. The Jurassic and Cretaceous periods provide a large number of fossil spiders, including representatives of many modern families.
Xiphosura (horseshoe crabs)
Solifugae (sun spiders)
Palpigradi (microwhip scorpions)
Amblypygi (whip spiders)
Thelyphonida (whip scorpions)
Ricinulei (hooded tickspiders)
It is now agreed that spiders (Araneae) are monophyletic (i.e., members of a group of organisms which form a clade, consisting of a last common ancestor and all of its descendants). There has been debate about what their closest evolutionary relatives are, and how all of these evolved from the ancestral chelicerates, which were marine animals. The cladogram on the right is based on J. W. Shultz' analysis (2007). Other views include proposals that: scorpions are more closely related to the extinct marine scorpion-like eurypterids than to spiders; spiders and Amblypygi are a monophyletic group. The appearance of several multi-way branchings in the tree on the right shows that there are still uncertainties about relationships between the groups involved.
Arachnids lack some features of other chelicerates, including backward-pointing mouths and gnathobases ("jaw bases") at the bases of their legs; both of these features are part of the ancestral arthropod feeding system. Instead they have mouths that point forwards and downwards, and all have some means of breathing air. Spiders (Araneae) are distinguished from other arachnid groups by several characteristics, including spinnerets and, in males, pedipalps that are specially adapted for sperm transfer.
Spiders are divided into two sub-orders, Mesothelae and Opisthothelae, of which the latter contains two infra-orders, Mygalomorphae and Araneomorphae. Over 40,000 living species of spiders (order Araneae) have been identified and are currently grouped into about 110 families and about 3,700 genera by arachnologists.
The only living members of the primitive Mesothelae are the family Liphistiidae, found only in Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. Most of the Liphistiidae construct silk-lined burrows with thin trapdoors, although some species of the genus Liphistius build camouflaged silk tubes with a second trapdoor as an emergency exit. Members of the genus Liphistius run silk "tripwires" outwards from their tunnels to help them detect approaching prey, while those of genus Heptathela do not and instead rely on their built-in vibration sensors. Spiders of the genus Heptathela have no venom glands although they do have venom gland outlets on the fang tip.
The extinct families Arthrolycosidae, found in Carboniferous and Permian rocks, and Arthromygalidae, so far found only in Carboniferous rocks, have been classified as members of the Mesothelae.
The Mygalomorphae, which first appeared in the Triassic period, are generally heavily built and hairy, with large, robust chelicerae and fangs. Well-known examples include tarantulas, trapdoor spiders and the Australasian funnel-web spiders. Most spend the majority of their time in burrows, and some run silk tripwires out from these, but a few build webs to capture prey. However mygalomorphs cannot produce the pirifom silk that the Araneomorphae use as instant adhesive to glue silk to surfaces or to other strands of silk, and this makes web construction more difficult for mygalomorphs. Since mygalomorphs rarely "balloon" by using air currents for transport, their populations often form clumps. In addition to arthropods, mygalomorphs prey on frogs and lizards, and snails.
In addition to accounting for over 90% of spider species, the Araneomorphae, also known as the "true spiders", include orb-web spiders, the cursorial wolf spiders, and jumping spiders, as well as the only known herbivorous spider, Bagheera kiplingi. They are distinguished by having fangs that oppose each other and cross in a pinching action, in contrast to the Mygalomorphae, which have fangs that are nearly parallel in alignment.
Most spiders will only bite humans in self-defense, and few produce worse effects than a mosquito bite or bee-sting. Most of those with medically serious bites, such as recluse spiders and widow spiders, are shy and bite only when they feel threatened, although this can easily arise by accident. Funnel web spiders' defensive tactics are aggressive and their venom, although they rarely inject much, has resulted in 13 known human deaths. On the other hand, the Brazilian wandering spider requires very little provocation.
There were about 100 reliably reported deaths from spider bites in the 20th century, but about 1,500 from jellyfish stings. Many alleged cases of spider bites may represent incorrect diagnoses, which would make it more difficult to check the effectiveness of treatments for genuine bites.
Cooked tarantula spiders are considered a delicacy in Cambodia, and by the Piaroa Indians of southern Venezuela – provided the highly irritant hairs, the spiders' main defense system, are removed first.
Spider venoms may be a less polluting alternative to conventional pesticides as they are deadly to insects but the great majority are harmless to vertebrates. Australian funnel web spiders are a promising source as most of the world's insect pests have had no opportunity to develop any immunity to their venom, and funnel web spiders thrive in captivity and are easy to "milk". It may be possible to target specific pests by engineering genes for the production of spider toxins into viruses that infect species such as cotton bollworms.
Possible medical uses for spider venoms are being investigated, for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia, Alzheimer's disease, strokes, and erectile dysfunction.
Because spider silk is both light and very strong, attempts are being made to produce it in goats' milk and in the leaves of plants, by means of genetic engineering.
Arachnophobia is a specific phobia—it is the abnormal fear of spiders or anything reminiscent of spiders, such as webs or spider-like shapes. It is one of the most common specific phobias, and some statistics show that 50% of women and 10% of men show symptoms. It may be an exaggerated form of an instinctive response that helped early humans to survive, or a cultural phenomenon that is most common in predominantly European societies.
Spiders have been the focus of stories and mythologies of various cultures for centuries. They have symbolized patience due to their hunting technique of setting webs and waiting for prey, as well as mischief and malice due to their venomous (and sometimes deadly) bites.
Web-spinning also caused the association of the spider with creation myths as they seem to have the ability to produce their own worlds. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped nature. They placed emphasis on animals and often depicted spiders in their art.