Scientists have discovered a common garden center spider that is able to create an electrically-charged web using nano-scale fibers.
Uloborus plumipes is able to spin nanometer filaments using an ancient spinning organ called the cribellum.
The majority of spiders produce micrometer silk thread using spinnerets. They then add a glue-like substance periodically along the thread to catch their prey. The feather-legged lace weaver uses a different tactic.
The cribellum of Uloborus is densely covered with thousands of tiny silk spigots or nozzles, each one only 50 nanometers in diameter. These nozzles produce thousands of extremely thin filaments of silk. The spider then uses specialized leg hair to violently pull and hack at the filaments transforming them into regularly spaced puffs of “wool” along the thread’s core fibers. The wool puffs also become electrically charged by the spider leg hair as it is pulled along them. Picture the static electricity you see as you rub a balloon along someone’s hair.
Silk thread strength is intimately tied to filament diameter, finer filaments correlates to increased thread strength.
Studying Uloborus plumipes and other spiders with nano-size silk spinning abilities will give scientists insight into creating artificial nano-sized sticky fibers.