Spiders have been stereotyped as being dangerous, and the natural tendency is to squash them before taking time to consider how beneficial and interesting they are. The most unique talent of spiders is their ability to spin silk webs to catch prey.
Spider silk is almost pure protein and is produced by silk glands that are located on the abdomen. There are usually three pair of spinnerets that are moveable “squirt guns” that allow the spider to manufacture different types of web. They can spin silk as thin as 1/500,000 of an inch thick (human hair is 1/250 of an inch), or make heavy sheets of web. They can also make the web sticky or be as slippery as glass.
Spiders are divided into two groups. Wandering spiders don’t build webs, but move about hunting and directly attacking their prey. Web building spiders are the ones who build elaborate structures and sit and wait for supper to come to them. Scientists still haven’t figured out how spiders avoid getting caught in their own web.
There are many species of web building spiders, each weaving its own variety of web. The classic circular spider web shape is made by orb weaving spiders. They can build one of these masterpieces in about an hour. There is also the funnel weave, a funnel shaped web built close to the ground, with the spider hiding inside awaiting a victim. Another familiar type is the cobweb weave, easily found in the attic and corners of most homes. The cobweb weavers have special claws on their back legs that comb the silk to make it soft and fluffy.
Recent studies have shown that the protein in silk is tougher, pound for pound, than steel cable. It is resistant to stretching and breaking, and is able to absorb impact. It is such good stuff that scientists are hoping to copy spider web and produce a synthetic silk to be used for such things as bullet proof vests and lighter steel cable.
Back in the day before TV weather, folks established weather predictions based on spider activities. For example, spiders weaving their webs during the middle of the day indicate continued good weather. When spider webs in air do fly, the weather will soon be very dry. When spider webs are wet with dew that soon dries, expect a fine day.
Before squashing your next spider, pause and remember that spiders are the most important predators in the world, and the bugs they eat are often the ones that bug us. Try to live and let live as much as possible, and enjoy their benefit.