Spider webs are architectural marvels. Their silks are similar in tensile strength to alloy steel. Their adhesive properties adjust to movements of prey ensnared in them. Yet they are, for many of the spiders that weave them, edible.
And spider webs, it turns out, may be one more thing, too: actually attractive to the very prey they're meant to lure. New research suggests that the webs may be effective at their primary jobs -- catching prey for the creatures that wove them -- not only because of their stickiness, and not only because of their strength, and not only because of their unique shape ... but also because of their responsiveness to electricity itself.
Yes. According to the research, the webs and positively charged objects -- like, say, insects flying by -- seem to be attracted to each other. Electrically attracted to each other. Unavoidably attracted to each other. Insects' wings, after all, don't simply keep their owners in the air as they're flapping; they also, in the process, generate electrical charge. Honeybees can generate enough charge -- up to 200 volts -- to detach pollen from flowers. And spider webs may take advantage of that in a way that is both evolutionarily ingenious and totally insidious at the same time, capturing prey by essentially sucking their victims in. Talk about animal magnetism.
The study, conducted by U.C. Berkeley's Victor Manuel Ortega-Jimenez and Robert Dudley and published in the journal Scientific Reports, tested webs' responsiveness to, in particular, the electrostatic charges of insects and water droplets. Their research, the authors note, builds on previous work that has documented webs' deformations in response to prey. We know, or think we know, that spider webs shift their shapes in order to capture that prey; the question is how they do it.