A comprehensive analysis of the mechanical properties of spider silk within its natural web arrangement is reported online in Nature Materials this week. This probing of a spider web in situ could enable future studies to further our understanding of the fundamental behaviour of this material, for example, how certain properties change on the capture of prey within the web.
Jeffrey Yarger and colleagues use a light-scattering technique to quantify the elastic responses of the different silk fibres that comprise a spider’s web in situ, without deforming or disrupting the web. Previous analytical methods have been limited to the probing of the material properties of an individual silk fibre, rather than in the context of a web.
The authors find that variation in elastic stiffness is shown for discrete fibres, junctions within the web and glue spots. By extending the investigation to supercontracted fibres, they show that in a humid environment, an increase in fibre stiffness occurs.