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Spider orb webs are multifunctional, acting to absorb prey impact energy and transmit vibratory information to the spider. This paper explores the links between silk material properties, propagation of vibrations within webs and the ability of the spider to control and balance web function. Combining experimental and modelling approaches, we contrast transverse and longitudinal wave propagation in the web. It emerged that both transverse and longitudinal wave amplitude in the web can be adjusted through changes in web tension and dragline silk stiffness, i.e. properties that can be controlled by the spider. In particular, we propose that dragline silk supercontraction may have evolved as a control mechanism for these multifunctional fibres. The various degrees of active influence on web engineering reveals the extraordinary ability of spiders to shape the physical properties of their self-made materials and architectures to affect biological functionality, balancing trade-offs between structural and sensory functions.

Original publication




Journal article


J R Soc Interface

Publication Date





Araneus diadematus, finite-element analysis, supercontraction, vibration, waves, Animals, Silk, Spiders, Stress, Mechanical, Vibration