Spider web John Brandow 1978

Bioscientists at Virginia Tech in the United States have investigated the glue used by orb spiders as part of a project to invent new materials.

The glue – created when glycoproteins are secreted from a spider’s abdomen and interact with the atmosphere – has been studied by Brent Opell, a professor of biological sciences in the College of Science and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. Prof Opell’s research team, which included Sarah Stellwagen, a 2015 biological sciences doctoral graduate, and Mary Clouse of Fairfax Station, Virginia, a senior majoring in biological sciences, determined that ultraviolet rays, specifically UVB rays, are an important environmental factor in the performance of spider glue. They tested the webs of five local spider species – three that catch prey in broad daylight and two that hunt at night or in deep forest shade shaded areas. They found that the webs of sun-soaked spiders were far more resistant to UVB rays than the webs of those that hunt in the dark or shade, perhaps indicating an important adaptive trait.

Prof Odell said: “Our study adds UVB irradiation to the list of factors known to affect the performance of spider glycoprotein glue, which includes humidity, temperature, and strain rate. “It is important to more fully understand these effects as material science moves toward producing environmentally non-toxic and energy conservative adhesives inspired by spider thread glycoprotein.” Ali Dhinojwala, H.A. Morton Professor in Polymer Science at the University of Akron, said: “Inspired by this study we can learn from the chemistry of spider glue to design new molecules to improve resistance to UVB light.” Ali Dhinjowala was not involved in this study but has collaborated with Prof Opell on other spider glue projects, such as a study on humidity’s effect on spider glue supported by the National Science Foundation.