Unpicking the signal thread of the sector web spider Zygiella x-notata

Mortimer, Beth and Holland, Chris and Windmill, James F. C. and Vollrath, Fritz (2015) Unpicking the signal thread of the sector web spider Zygiella x-notata. Interface, 12 (113). 20150633. ISSN 1742-5662 (https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2015.0633)

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Remote sensing allows an animal to extend its morphology with appropriate conductive materials and sensors providing environmental feedback from spatially removed locations. For example, the sector web spider Zygiella x-notata uses a specialised thread as both a structural bridge and signal transmitter to monitor web vibrations from its retreat at the web perimeter. To unravel this model multifunctional system, we investigated Zygiella's signal thread structure with a range of techniques, including tensile testing, laser vibrometry, electron microscopy and behavioural analysis. We found that signal threads varied significantly in the number of filaments; a result of the spider adding a lifeline each time it runs along the bridge. Our mechanical property analysis suggests that whilst the structure varies, its normalised load does not. We propose that the signal thread represents a complex and fully integrated multifunctional structure where filaments can be added, thus increasing absolute load bearing capacity while maintaining signal fidelity. We conclude that such structures may serve as inspiration for energy harvesting piezo-electric composite structures.