Spider Update

“But how can you walk away from something and still come back to it?”
“Easy,” said the cat. “Think of somebody walking around the world. You start out walking away from something and end up coming back to it.”
“Small world,” said Coraline.
“It’s big enough for her,” said the cat. “Spider’s webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.”
Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Trinity River Levee
Dallas, Texas

Only two days ago I wrote about the spider that lives in the driver’s side rear view mirror on my car.

He has been there every morning. Today, watching his behavior closely, I realized what he is doing.

When I came to my car he was nowhere to be seen, but his web was stretched out from the mirror capsule to the door. It was oval, complex, symmetrical, and beautiful shining gossamer in the rising sun.

As I drove down the road, suddenly he emerged, fighting the wind, moving over his web as best as he could.

Why didn’t he stay put? Why did he come out of the safety of the mirror housing to flap around in the speeding air?

I watched him (as best as I could… I had to drive) and suddenly realized what he was doing – what he was doing every morning out there.

He was eating his web. First, he gathered all the disparate strands into one, thick, sturdy rope and once that was accomplished, he devoured the strand surprisingly quickly. Only then did he return to the safety of the mirror housing.

I wasn’t sure if I saw it right, so I looked up “Do spiders eat their old webs?” on the internet. Sure enough, they do.

From Indiana Public Media:

Look around many homes and businesses today, and you’ll see recycling bins full of paper, metal cans, and plastic.

In a world of limited resources, it makes sense to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. That’s why humans aren’t the first to try to conserve natural resources by recycling. Spiders have their own program to recycle valuable protein.

Tangled Prey

The spiders we’re talking about are the orb-weavers, the ones that make those rounded, intricate webs you see shimmering between branches in a garden or forest. To increase their chances of capturing prey, orb-weavers’ webs are often located in high traffic areas. This makes damage to the web more likely, either when a scrumptious morsel gets tangled in it or when a bumbling human gets hung up for a few seconds!

Some orb-weavers remake their webs every day, whether it’s damaged or not. Since spider’s silk is made of protein, all this web-weaving requires considerable amounts of protein. What if a nice, protein-rich insect doesn’t get trapped in the web every day? What’s a hungry orb-weaver to do?

Recycling

That’s where the spider’s genius for recycling comes in. When the orb-weaver takes apart an old web, it actually eats the silk. The protein from the old silk is never wasted, from the spider’s digestive system, it goes to the silk glands to be made into a new web. Even if a spider misses a few meals, it can still go on spinning webs. This is thanks to the efficient recycling program that lets spiders conserve protein by eating old webs.

You learn something new every day.