Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Spider web

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Question
I live on 5 acres in Hollister Ca. Just two people, and a feral cat.
We've done quite a bit of landscaping and have a small dwarf orchard and garden. While walking back from the orchard a week ago I attempted to walk between two large bushes about 11 feet apart. I stopped because I thought there was a piece of fishing line at eye level between the two bushes. I then became aware that there was a large spider web 1.5' diameter hanging off what I thought was fishing line. I began to wonder about a spider using a fishing line for his web, then how taunt the line was, I calculated the distance at 11', there was a massive web suspended between it and two lower horizontal lines and the upper line was dead straight. No sag from the weight, I was at a loss with all these observations. I touched the line. It felt just like a 2-3 pound test fishing line. It looked like monofilament fishing line. I pulled on it, and reasoned it was stronger than fishing line. I then showed it off to some friends. I began to wonder how a little spider could construct such a thick spider web and pull it that taunt. The same event at a human scale would require a block and tackle. The next day some people were over and picked some fruit from the orchard. I remembered the web and decided to go get a sample. I did not see any of the web except for a piece off what I reasoned to be the top main line. It no longer looked like a mono filament line but rather somewhat line a stranded nylon rope that has been pulled until it broke and the frazzled frayed ends of the individual strands look rather hap-hazzard. I tried to grasp the piece and gently tried to pull, it was obviously part of one of the spiders lines. I've even seen bits of the same frayed type web stuff floating in the air around central California over my lifetime. So I guess my question would be, how was that strand constructed, like we construct a cable, one strand at a time? And how does a little spider put that much tension on a line over that distance?

Answer
Marc:

I don't know the complete answer, but here is my understanding:

A spider constructing the foundation of its web starts by standing on the tip of a twig or other object (point"A" if you will) and releasing a strand of silk into the air.  The wind carries the strand and wherever it lands, that is point "B."  The spider walks from point "A" to point "B" along that strand, laying down another strand of silk as it goes.  So, the thread you found is actually a bundle of probably several threads.

Spider silk shrinks as it dries, creating the tension, but it is also incredibly elastic, so it does not break easily when the wind or some object affects the points of attachment.

There are entire books devoted to spider silk, its properties and how spiders use it.

Eric  

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Eric R. Eaton

Expertise

I answer insect and spider identification questions ONLY. Attach images if possible. No "what bit me?", "what do I feed this bug in captivity?", or science fair project questions please. NO TECHNICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT INSECT PHYSIOLOGY.

Experience

Principal author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Professional entomologist employed previously at University of Massachusetts, Chase Studio, Inc., and Cincinnati Zoo; contract work for West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Smithsonian Institution, and Portland (Oregon) State University.

Publications
Author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Missouri Conservationist magazine, Ranger Rick, Birds & Blooms, Timeline (journal of the Ohio Historical Society). I have contributed to several books as well.

Education/Credentials
Oregon State University, undergraduate major in entomology, did not receive degree.

Awards and Honors
One of the top 50 experts in all categories for AllExperts.com, 2009.

Past/Present Clients
Principal author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, Smithsonian Institution (contract), Cincinnati Zoo (employer), Portland State University (contract), Chase Studio, Inc (employer), Arkansas Museum of Discovery (guest speaker). Currently seeking speaking engagements, leadership roles at nature festivals, workshops, and ecotours.

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