Jan 30, 2015 04:04 PM EST
Looking to boost the integrity of nanofilaments, important in commercial manufacturing and technology, researchers from Oxford University recently investigated how the filaments are spun in nature. Pulling inspiration from outside in their gardens, the researchers from the UK captured female Uloborus plumipes commonly known as "feather-legged lace weavers" and watched them spin their webs.
The new study published this week in the journal Biology Letters reveals a new method of spinning that researchers previously did not see in the wild. Instead of utilizing sticky glue on the threads to snare its prey, the lace weavers used a more archaic technique of dry-capturing their next meal. After spinning the nanothreads, the spiders then utilize specialized hairs on their hind legs to electrically "fluff" the filaments, and establish a form of static attraction that acts very similarly to glues found in traditional webs.
"The swathe of gossamer, made of thousands of filaments, emerging from these spigots is actively combed out by the spider onto the capture thread's core fibres using specialist hairs on its hind legs" the study's coauthor, Professor Fritz Vollrath says. "This combing and hackling - violently pulling the thread - charges the fibres and the electrostatic interaction of this combination spinning process leads to regularly spaced, wool-like 'puffs' covering the capture threads. The extreme thinness of each filament, in addition to the charges applied during spinning, provides Van der Waals adhesion. And this makes these puffs immensely sticky."
The intricate fiber spinning was only part of the lace weavers' charm. Researchers found that even once the filaments were spun, it was the spiders' combing behavior that actually gave the webs their sticky nature. And researchers hope to one day be able to mimic this "teasing" technique.
"Studying this spider is giving us valuable insights into how it creates nano-scale filaments" Vollrath says. "If we could reproduce its neat trick of electro-spinning nano-fibres we could pave the way for a highly versatile and efficient new kind of polymer processing technology."
Care to see what the researchers found so interesting? Watch this little spider spin a web that has nano-scale technologists envious of their unique skills.
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