Spider webs aren’t static—they actively spring towards their prey thanks to electrically-conductive glue spread across their surface, according to Oxford University researchers.1 Their paper in Naturwissenschaften shows how the electrostatic properties of the glue and ‘a quirk of physics’ causes webs to move towards all airborne objects, irrespective of whether they are positively or negatively charged.2
These new findings explain why spider webs are such efficient collectors of small airborne particles such as pollen, and why they suddenly spring towards nearby flying insects.
“People often underestimate the static electricity that builds up in airborne objects, but it is important at all scales,” explained Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University, who led the study. “The Hindenburg disaster might have been caused by a discharge of static electricity,3 and helicopters have been known to explode suddenly when landing. Everything that moves through the air develops static charge, so it’s fascinating to see how spider webs make use of this to actively catch prey.”1
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