The Ultimate Web Designer

Spiders, like venomous snakes, don't rank high on most people's lists of animal favorites. They look creepy, have fangs, and some can stick you with life-threatening consequences. To top it off, they spin icky webs in our lovely homes and drape them across hiking trails at eye level. Eew! But before you stomp on another spider in repugnance, consider their unique abilities. Like every other creature on earth, spiders showcase the ingenious creativity of their Maker. If you really knew what they can do, your attitude may change from abhorrence to amazement.

Take one common example, the orb weaver spiders (family Araneidae). It's not the largest spider family (jumping spiders and sheet weavers have more species), but it's one of the most identifiable. They weave those familiar circular webs that we run across (or into) in forests and gardens.

The true marvel is in the details. You may never desire to cohabit with these creatures, but by the end of this article, you might find yourself filled with admiration for their abilities (provided they keep their distance).

Silk Spigots

Consider the machinery necessary to produce these webs. Most people know that spider silk is manufactured somewhere on the south side of a spider. But where exactly and how?

On the tip of a spider's abdomen are usually three pairs of elaborate "spinnerets." Each spinneret is a tiny conical gadget with a mess of spigots on its end (sometimes over a thousand) that can dispense liquid silk in glue-gun fashion.

But this is no glue gun. These spinnerets produce silk, and not just one kind of silk. To build an orb web and its other silken products, the spider requires several kinds of thread. Each type must be produced on demand. How is this possible?

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