, Volume 99, Issue 4, pp 337–341 | Cite as

Spiders avoid sticking to their webs: clever leg movements, branched drip-tip setae, and anti-adhesive surfaces

  • R. D. Briceño
  • W. G. Eberhard
Short Communication


Orb-weaving spiders construct webs with adhesive silk but are not trapped by it. Previous studies have attributed this defense to an oily coating on their legs that protects against adhesion or, more recently, to behavioral avoidance of sticky lines. The old evidence is very weak, however, and the behavioral avoidance explanation is inadequate because orb-weavers push with their hind legs against sticky lines hundreds or thousands of times during construction of each orb and are not trapped. Video analyses of behavior and experimental observations of isolated legs pulling away from contact with sticky lines showed that the spider uses three anti-adhesion traits: dense arrays of branched setae on the legs that reduce the area of contact with adhesive material; careful engagement and withdrawal movements of its legs that minimize contact with the adhesive and that avoid pulling against the line itself; and a chemical coating or surface layer that reduces adhesion.


Spider webs Anti-adhesives Drip-tip setae Behavior 



We thank Brent Opell, Julio Mata, Mavis Montero, and Jerome Rovner for advice; Diego Gonzalez-Florez for permission to cite unpublished observations; personnel of the Parque Braulio Carillo; and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Universidad de Costa Rica for financial support.

Supplementary material


(MPG 12698 kb)


(MPG 9904 kb)


(MPG 4106 kb)


  1. Agnarsson I, Blackledge T (2009) Can a spider web be too sticky? Tensile mechanics constrains the evolution of capture spiral stickiness in orb-weaving spiders. J Zool 278:134–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bush WM, Hu DL, Prakash M (2008) The integument of water-walking arthropods: form and function. Adv Ins Physiol 34:118–192Google Scholar
  3. Craig C (2003) Spider webs and silk. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Dean J, Smith A (1978) Behavioral and morphological adaptations of a tropical plant to high rainfall. Biotropica 102:152–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Denny M (1976) The physical properties of spider's silk and their role in the design of orb-webs. J Exp Biol 65:483–506Google Scholar
  6. Eberhard W (1982) Behavioral characters for the higher classification of orb-weaving spiders. Evolution 36:1067–1095CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fabre J (1912) The life of the spider (trans: Teixeira de Mattos A). Blue Ribbon Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Foelix R (1996) The biology of spiders. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  9. Hingston R (1920) A naturalist in Himalya. Small, Maynard & Co., BostonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hingston R (1922) The snare of the giant wood spider (Nephila maculata). J Bombay Nat Hist Soc 28:642–649Google Scholar
  11. Kropf C, Bauer D, Schläppi T, Jacob A (2012) An organic coating keeps orb-weaving spiders (Araneae, Araneoidea, Araneidae) from sticking to their own capture threads. J Zool Syst Evol Res 50:14–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lubin Y (1973) Web structure and function: the non-adhesive orb-web of Cyrtophora moluccensis (Doleschall) (Araneae: Araneidae). Forma Funct 6:337–358Google Scholar
  13. Opell B, Hendricks M (2007) Adhesive recruitment by the viscous capture threads of araneoid orb-weaving spiders. J Exp Biol 210:553–560PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Opell B, Hendricks M (2010) The role of granules within viscous capture threads of orb-weaving spiders. J Exp Biol 213:339–346PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Peters H (1954) Estudios adicionales sobre la estructura de la red concéntrica de las arañas. Comun Inst Trop Invest Cient 3:1–18Google Scholar
  16. Sahni V, Blackledge T, Dhinojwala A (2010) Viscoelastic solids explain spider web stickiness. Nat Comm 1–4:19. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1019 Google Scholar
  17. Vollrath F, Tillinghast E (1991) Glycoprotein glue beneath a spider web’s aqueous coat. Naturwissenschaften 78:557–559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Wiehle H (1927) Z. Beitrage zur Kenntnis des Radnetzbaues der Epeiriden, Tetragnathiden, und Uloboriden. Morphol Oekol Tiere 9:418–537Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Escuela de BiologíaUniversidad de Costa Rica, Ciudad UniversitariaSan PedroCosta Rica
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstitutePanamaCosta Rica

Personalised recommendations