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Creation 44(2):41, April 2022

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Dance of the web-weavers


Creative Commons | RudiSteenkampA hackled orb weaver with prey wrapped in silk
A hackled orb weaver with prey wrapped in silk

Take time to watch an orb weaver spider construct its web and you’ll surely agree, they are architects par excellence. Orb weavers include many garden spiders, and their constructions are often exquisite. They even customize their designs depending on which prey they are targeting—a tighter weave for flies, or a stronger, stickier construction to catch stronger insects, like crickets, that might thrash about to free themselves.1 Depending on the species, an orb weaver can possess up to seven different sorts of silk glands and up to six spinnerets.2 The spinnerets are conical or tubular organs, at the back of the spider’s abdomen, which stretch out and wind the silk proteins together before extruding the completed silk strand.

Spider silk itself is stronger than manmade materials like steel and Kevlar, is heat-resistant, and its exceptionally sticky nature is due to ‘smart’ properties of the spider glue.3 It is also known that a tremendous variety of web shapes, decorations, and decoys are made by these awesome arachnids. Nevertheless, there is still much to learn about how they spin their webs. A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University has worked hard to unravel the secrets of a species of hackled orb weaver spider, Uloborus diversus. Found in the western United States, it is a small species (males 2.4 mm, females 4.0 mm). The team’s intriguing findings were recently published in Current Biology.4

Filming the dance

The scientists wanted to track the movements of each of the spider’s legs, but it is a nocturnal species, so they had to use a night vision video camera with fast frame-rate. Even so, as one of the lead authors pointed out, “that’s a lot of legs to track, over a long time, across many individuals” when you’re studying the entire web-building process.5 They had to train machine vision software to monitor the spider’s millions of minute posture changes, frame by frame!6 However, their hard work paid off because, for the first time, biologists can now make sense of the complex choreographed sequence of steps in web construction.

The team’s position tracking technique demonstrated that all Uloborus individuals perform the same set of actions, and in the same sequence of stages.4 Eventually, the researchers became familiar enough with this beautifully orchestrated spider dance that, merely from seeing the position of a leg, they could say which part of the web the spider was weaving.5 You can actually watch the spiders in action in a two minute video that the team have posted online—Assistant Professor of Biology Andrew Gordus says, “I think they’re incredibly elegant, and it reminds me of watching a performer perform a dance.”7 Indeed it does!

Origins of the dance

It is pertinent to ask, ‘Where does such complex behaviour come from?’ and ‘How do spiders know what to do?’ Since each spider is clearly following the same set of web-building rules, these must be programmed in its tiny ‘spider brain’ (a future research project). The behaviours of the web-building algorithm are themselves encoded in this hackled orb weaver’s genome.8 Amazing when you think of it.

The fact that such awesome feats of master engineering and choreography are performed by creatures with such tiny brains is astounding, all must surely agree. Evolutionists have tried speculating about the origins of web-building behaviour and silk production, but none of their attempts are remotely credible, or accepted by their peers.9 Instead, these miniature marvels should lead us to magnify the Maker of these web-makers: “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

Posted on homepage: 19 June 2023

References and notes

  1. Salleh, A., Custom web design keeps spiders in business, abc.net.au, 18 Mar 2015. Return to text.
  2. Pennisi, E., Untangling spider biology, Science 358(6361):288–291, 2017. Return to text.
  3. Sarfati, J., Spiderweb stickiness secret, Creation 33(2):34–35 2011; creation.com/spiderweb-stickiness. This article also addresses, “Why would God create something to trap living prey?” Return to text.
  4. Corver, A. and 3 others, Distinct movement patterns generate stages of spider web building, Current Biology 31(22):P4983–4997.e5, 2021. Return to text.
  5. Lipscombe-Southwell, A., Night vision and artificial intelligence reveal secrets of spider webs, sciencefocus.com, 4 Nov 2021. Return to text.
  6. Aridi, R., Using night vision and A.I., scientists recorded spiders’ entire choreography for web building, smithsonianmag.com, 24 Nov 2021. Return to text.
  7. Spiders’ web secrets unravelled, youtube.com/watch?v=XHS5MOg5dyc, 1 Nov 2021. Return to text.
  8. An algorithm is an ordered sequence of precise instructions for processing data, doing calculations, or solving problems. Return to text.
  9. Cassell, E., ‘Spiderwebs’, in Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the mysterious origin of ingenious instincts, Discovery Institute Press, pp. 132–135, 2021. Return to text.

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