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SPIDERS— AMAZING ARCHITECTS OF THE NATURAL WORLD

I am spending the month of October on a fairly large property located on the outskirts of the suburbs. One of my favorite things about the vastness of this landscape is that it gives my family and me the chance to stretch our arms (and paws) wideout without being in one another’s space. Trees, bushes, and native plants surround this space and among them are similarly sprawled networks of silken webs so perfectly spun that I cannot help but stand and study them.  At times, the spiders within the intricately strung masterpieces are easily found but more often than not, I end up searching for them in the surrounding leaves or holes in the soil. Once they are found, I am surprised to learn that the size of the web is not an accurate indicator of the spider who lives inside it. In fact, tiny spiders can craft a sprawling web just as masterfully as their larger relatives.


Sheet web spiderwebs collecting the morning dew outside of Camarillo home. These large webs are strung together by very small spiders that are often hard to spot.

When you encounter a spider’s web, you are standing beside some of the strongest material known to man—a silk compound that is created in the abdomen of the spider. The silk is stored within the body cavity in a liquid for that only hardens once it is shot from the spider’s body.  To date, scientists and engineers have been unable to replicate the silk material that is said to be five times stronger than steel! You might be thinking— a spiderweb stronger than steel, how is that possible? It is important to note that the strength of spiderweb silk is compared to that of piece steel that has been stretched as thin as the web itself. When considering that a single strand of spider web wrapped around our planet weighs less than 500 grams (18 oz), you can imagine just how thin a competing strand of steel would have to be.

Look closely at almost any of the over 40,000 species of spider and you’ll notice that they are covered in hairs. Similar to the whiskers that line your pet’s face, these super sensitive spider hairs can detect the slightest vibration anywhere nearby. When it comes to a spider web, the strings and fibers amplify any vibration coming from movement and the hairs on the spider’s body transmit a message that their perimeter has been breached. According to arachnologists (spider scientists), you can tell a lot about a spider by the web they weave. Though the stereotypical spider webs seen during Halloween are round and used to catch small trick-or-treaters and other prey, webs have a variety of designs and functions.

Here is a list of spiders and the characteristics of the webs they make: 

  • Spiral Orb Webs – Featuring the classic spider web design, spiral orb webs are usually constructed by spiders in the Araneidae family. These mini-masterpieces are composed of two spirals – the first is a non-sticky “guide” spiral while the second spiral has an adhesive (sticky) quality. Once the adhesive spiral has been set into place, orb-web spiders remove the guide spiral.  Like most spiders, orb weavers are primarily found outdoors.

  • Triangle Web (Uloboridae) Unlike many other spiders, the triangle spider does not dispense venom when biting its prey so its web plays an important role in helping to kill their next meal. Triangle webs lay flat to the ground or are spread out horizontally, and the tiny fibers of this fuzzy web are used to smother and suffocate the triangle spider’s prey.

  • Cob Webs/Tangle Webs- (Theriidae) The most famous spider in this web building family is the black widow. Cob Web spiders, also known as house spiders or comb-footed spiders, are commonly found in dark basements, garages, and other dark sheltered places. The haphazard construction of their webs does not make for a work of art, but they still manage to get the job done!

  • Funnel Webs (Agelenidae, Dipluridae and Hexathelidae families) – These non-sticky funnel-shaped webs are used as both a trap and a hideout! The structure of the web, which has a large front door and a small back door, allows arachnids like the hobo spider to hide within the funnel before pouncing on its prey. The tiny hole at one end of the web ensures that the spider can make a quick getaway if need be. You’ll usually find these webs nestled between rocks, in dense plant cover and other places that provide shelter for their maker.

  • Mesh Webs- (Dictynidae) The mesh web spiders is like the outdoor version of the cobweb spider. Their webs are a little more organized and less messy than cobwebs, and it is not uncommon to find them under leaves, inside of wood piles, and beneath rocks.

  • Tubular Webs (Segestriidae)– Tubular webs are strung along the bases of trees or can be found close to the ground. Despite being slightly thinner, the design of the tubular web is not that different from the funnel web. Spiders in this family hide and wait to be notified by a trigger string that sends a message that their next meal is served.

  • Sheet Webs (Linyphiidae)– Like the triangle web, sheet webs are horizontally spun into thick mats that lay close to the ground.  These webs are constructed with individual strands of silk that are woven together to make a semi-transparent sheet. They are usually inhabited by very small spiders who trap their prey within the dense layers of silk.  Most sheet web weavers can be found worldwide and are sometimes called money spiders because their appearance is said to bring good luck.

There are many kinds of spiders, like the brown recluse, the wolf spider and jumping spiders that do not use webs to catch prey. So, unfortunately, webs aren’t always reliable to tell whether or not spiders are hanging around your home.  If you see a web and it is not in your way, it’s best to let it be. Remember that spiders are a natural part of the world and play a big role in their specific habitats. As hunters of mosquitoes, fly, and other small insects, spiders can actually help reduce the spread of diseases like Malaria and West Nile Virus.


Orb Weaver spider–notice the circular weave of its web. Photo Credit: Alex Havasi

Another Orb Weaver, the golden silk spider found in Costa Rica. Photo Credit: Alex Havasi

Grass spider at Bolsa Chica has a funnel-like web. Photo credit: Alex Havasi

Cool Facts about a Spider’s Web:

Spiders are the only group of animals to build webs. Over millions of years, webs have evolved into a variety of kinds, such as sheets, tangles, ladders, and the elegant orb web. 

Spiders can’t fly, but they sometimes sail through the air on a line of silk, which is known as “ballooning.”

Hundreds of years ago, people put spider webs on their wounds because they believed it would help stop the bleeding. Scientists now know that silk contains vitamin K, which can, in fact, reduce bleeding.

Some spiders eat their webs and then reuse them.

To find out more about these creepy crawly creatures of creation.  Visit the Spider Pavilion at the Los Angeles Natural History MuseumHurry in before November 25, 2018, to see the one-of-a-kind Spider Pavilion and walk through a fascinating exhibit that teaches you about the amazing engineering that goes into each spider’s web.

The Havasi Wilderness Foundation works to create an understanding of the need for environmental education and awareness among world citizens. It is our job to help preserve and protect our planet and all those who live here. If you would like to help support our work, please make a donation to us today.

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