Spiders' Miraculous Webs

by The Old Scot

All over the world, in plains and forests, in gardens and pastures, even in homes and alleys, an oft-repeated miracle takes place every summer day as spiders spin their webs.

What's miraculous about that? Please don't reject the label without examination. Let us scrutinize some of these lacy filigrees of silk, and let us watch a typical spider build her web.

But first, we should examine her spinning mechanism. Spiders possess from two to six, or even more, spinnerets on their abdomens, with each spinneret capable of producing a different type of filament. The web, for example, will contain both sticky and dry filaments. The spider-engineer will use dry filaments for the "scaffolding" of her web, and sticky filaments to entangle her prey.

Under a microscope, the sticky filament reveals its ingenious secrets: first, it is stranded, to give it tremendous stretching capacity without breaking; yet this elasticity allows it to resume its original shape, when freed from tension. Second, the filament is found to be actually a hollow tube, which is filled with the sticky material. Thus, as the web dries out, fresh glue exudes from the core and renews the effectiveness of the coating.1

Let us watch now as a large spider, the European banded epeira, creates its web:

First, she climbs to a branch or twig of the proper height. Once the starting point is reached, and the breeze is right, she lets go of the twig and falls toward the ground. But as she falls, she leaves a strand of silk trailing behind her. Just short of the ground her spinnerets shut off the flow and the spider stops abruptly. They she climbs back to the starting point, again leaving a silky filament behind. Thus, when she regains her first perch, there is a large loop of silk billowing in the breeze.

If our spider has chosen her location wisely, the loop-wafted by the wind-will soon make contact at some point with another twig, and when it does, her baseline is established. She will traverse this baseline repeatedly, laying down more strands, which will be come as one in a stout-though still barely visible-cable. Only at its ends will it be seen to divide, as she makes the strands fast to a variety of anchor points.

Next she constructs her "scaffolding," by dropping numerous vertical lines, and then horizontal and oblique cross-lines from them, until at last she can walk to any desired point on the web understructure. All of this silk is dry.

The radials are drawn out next, like spokes on a wheel, and finally comes the spiral webbing which gives the web both its beauty and its deadliness-for it is the spider's adhesive coil to trap its prey.

She can expect to rebuild her web after only a day or two, for both bad weather and large insects can wreak havoc with it. And when she does rebuild, she herself will do away with all except the original anchor cable. The old webbing is valuable protein-too valuable to waste-so it is consumed and recycled.

Does the spider spin only to put food on the table? Not at all. Spiders also use their web-making capability at other critical junctures of life. For instance, the mother spider builds an elaborate silk nest for her eggs, which will keep them safe until hatching time. In some species, the male spider wraps the female with silk before mating with her-perhaps to save himself from her voracious appetite! And the newly-emerged young of many species use their web-spinning ability to literally launch themselves on their careers: they climb as high as they are able, on a day when the sun is warm and the heated air is rising. They then spin out a long strand of silk, and when the tug of the line is sufficient they let go of their security and allow themselves to be wafted to their new home. Ballooning spiders have been encountered as high as 2,000 feet in the air!

How do the young spiders know to do this? And how do spiders learn how to spin their webs?

The answer is: they don't learn it. They already know it, from birth. We label this knowledge "instinct"-and thereby manage to overlook what a wondrous miracle it is. The same Creator who gave spiders the ability to spin also gave them the in-born knowledge of how to use it.

This Creator gives to each of His creatures all that it needs to fulfill its purpose in life. And this is true also of man-of you and me. We are endowed by our Creator with the strength, intelligence, capabilities, and the potential we need to fulfill our purpose.

But unlike unreasoning Nature, man cannot find his purpose in life apart from God-for so He made us. "In the image of God, created He him; male and female created He them" (Gen. 1:27). And we will find, if we seek within ourselves, that we also have an instinctive drive within us to seek out our God and find our fulfillment and our rest in Him.

Footnote source: The Wonders of Instinct, Jean Henri Fabre, Century Company, NY, 1918, pp. 174-175.

General source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, Vol. 1, pp. 1069-1071.

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