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Spider Silk Sing Crucial Notes

Update Date: Jun 03, 2014 05:35 PM EDT

New research reveals that spider webs are like harps, with the slightest movement being chords to songs carrying information about prey, mates and the way a web is shaped.

Scientists from the Universities of Oxford, Strathclyde, and Sheffield shot bullets at spider silk to examine how it vibrates, and found that vibrations on spider silk translate into a range of uniquely different sounds.

Not only do the latest findings reveal more about spiders, scientists believe they could also pave the way into discovering new technologies like lightweight sensors.

"Most spiders have poor eyesight and rely almost exclusively on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information," lead researcher Beth Mortimer of the Oxford Silk Group at Oxford University, said in a news release.

"The sound of silk can tell them what type of meal is entangled in their net and about the intentions and quality of a prospective mate. By plucking the silk like a guitar string and listening to the 'echoes' the spider can also assess the condition of its web," she added.

"The fact that spiders can receive these nanometre vibrations with organs on each of their legs, called slit sensillae, really exemplifies the impact of our research about silk properties found in our study," said Dr Shira Gordon of the University of Strathclyde, an author involved in this research, according to a university release.

"These findings further demonstrate the outstanding properties of many spider silks that are able to combine exceptional toughness with the ability to transfer delicate information," added Professor Fritz Vollrath of the Oxford Silk Group at Oxford University. "These are traits that would be very useful in light-weight engineering and might lead to novel, built-in 'intelligent' sensors and actuators."

"Spider silks are well known for their impressive mechanical properties, but the vibrational properties have been relatively overlooked and now we find that they are also an awesome communication tool. Yet again spiders continue to impress us in more ways than we can imagine," co-researcher Dr. Chris Holland of the University of Sheffield said in a news release.

"It may even be that spiders set out to make a web that 'sounds right' as its sonic properties are intimately related to factors such as strength and flexibility," Mortimer concluded.

The findings were published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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