Friday, 16 November 2012

A different side to spiders

The mere mention of the word 'spider' can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest wildlife enthusiast.

It's true, spiders have a bad reputation, but we shouldn't forget that these amazing little creatures are the master craftsmen behind one of nature's most underrated wonders - the spider's web.

Works of art
The crisp, morning frosts of autumn and winter show these beautiful creations off to their best. Ice crystals clinging to the silk strands dance and glisten as the web sways in the breeze, creating a stunning jewelled display.

A spider can create one of these intricate, elegant structures in less than an hour, as this wonderful timelapse footage shows. And just think, it could be happening in your garden right now!
The silk used to spin a web is finer than a human hair, yet five times stronger than steel. Engineers have calculated that a woven cord of spider's silk as thick as a pencil could stop a jet in midair - now that's strong!

Carpets of silk
This spider silk is responsible for a very mysterious and atmospheric sight of autumn. You might have noticed it if you've Frosted seedhead, festooned with frozen spider's silk.been walking recently - shimmering carpets of gossamer silk covering shrubs and bushes.
Though it might look like someone has got a little carried away with the Halloween decorations, this peculiar sight is actually the work of millions of baby spiders.

Up, up and away
When it's time for spiderlings to leave their mother, they climb up to high points on plants, point their abdomens skywards, and start producing silk threads.

Some of these threads drift gently downwards and become tangled in bushes, producing the sheets of silk we see. But when there's a breeze, the silk threads act like a sail, lifting the spiderlings high into the sky.

On a calm day they may only travel a few metres, but if there is a strong breeze the spiderlings can drift thousands of feet up into the sky and travel hundreds of miles - a process known as ballooning.

So next time you're out and about, keep your eyes peeled for ballooning babies and wonderful webs - the nicer side to spiders.