[credit: (top) Susan Ford Collins on Flickr/ (bottom) Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation, in collaboration with S. Cranford, G. Bratzel and M.J. Buehler (all three from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Rihcard C. Yu and Andaluz Yu of Green Pacific Biologicals ]
View a video interview with Markus Buehler of MIT, an animationof a spider web under extremes stresses, and an animation of a spider web subjected to mechanical forces.
While researchers have long known of the incredible strength of spider silk, the robust nature of the tiny filaments cannot alone explain how webs survive multiple tears and winds that exceed hurricane strength.
Now, a study that combines experimental observations of spider webs with complex computer simulations shows that web durability depends not only on silk strength, but on how the overall web design compensates for damage and the response of individual strands to continuously varying stresses.
All spiders have unique mechanoreceptory organs called slit sensilla, which allow them to sense minute mechanical strains on their exoskeleton. This sixth sense makes it easy for spiders to judge things like the size, weight, and possibly even the type of creature that gets caught in their webs. It may also help them tell the difference between the movement of an insect and the movement of the wind, or even a benign blade of grass, as it moves across the web. 11 animals with a sixth sense
Superstrong spider skin: Art or scientific miracle? An artist and a scientist blended spider silk with human skin to produce a material that can stop a rifle bullet shot at half its regular speed. Spider silk is three times stronger than Kevlar, which is used in bulletproof vests worn by the military. Since bulletproof vests are made from 33 layers of Kevlar, using more layers of spider silk could prove more effective in stopping a bullet.