Each of us is a unique strand in the intricate web of life and here to make a contribution.
It seems like all of nature can make a contribution to our well-being, often in surprising ways.
I awoke on two mornings this week to dense fog here in the woods. The fog revealed the presence of a variety of spiders that have survived well past their usual expiration date.
A stroll through the yard showed many sheet webs on the ground and a few of what looked like Bowl and Doily Spider webs.
There were also some random strands of silk draped on twigs and old flower stalks.
I always enjoy seeing orb webs decorated in dew drops and finally found one strung between twigs on a sapling. It always reminds me of necklaces of circular diamonds due to the regular pattern of droplets. That got me to wondering…why is there such a seemingly regular array of water droplets on spider webs?
A quick online search this morning lead me to some interesting studies. A blog in Discover magazine reported on some studies by Chinese scientists that found that protein fibers in the silk of one species of spider change structure in response to water. When in contact with humidity, like on the foggy mornings this week, certain areas of spider silk fiber scrunch up, forming tiny knots along the strand. In between these knots are smooth areas of the fiber which allow condensed water to slide along until it hits a knot, where it accumulates into a droplet. The researchers were able to copy the fiber structure and created artificial strands that mimic the water gathering properties of the spider silk.
The scientists hope that these artificial spider strands may have industrial uses or could be used to help gather drinking water from the air in dry areas of the world. While they were able to figure out how this water collection occurs on the spider silk, they don’t have a reason why silk strands behave in this way (what’s in it for the spider?). It seems that wet silk strands are less effective at catching prey. They speculated that by forming droplets that eventually fall off the web as they grow, this property could help keep a web from getting too heavy and being damaged by the weight of the accumulating water. Or, perhaps it is just one of nature’s ways of bringing beauty into our world and helping us appreciate the simple things in life.