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CAN YOU BUILD A Better Spider Web?

One of the coolest adaptations of spiders is their ability to use webs to capture prey. The webs help spiders because they allow them to catch prey without having to run them down. In this STEM Challenge, your job is to create and test a model of a spider web that spans a gap needed for the best hunting possible. In designing your web, you should engineer like a spider who starts with the foundational strand, adds the outward ones and then ties things together with the circular strands.

Create a string spider web in this STEM challenge that explores engineering!

 Background Information:

  • Spider webs are made of silk that is stronger than the same weight of steel and yet much more flexible.
    Spiders produce this silk from spinneret glands and several different types of silk are produced. Sticky
    silk designed to trap prey is used in web construction. Fine thin silk is used for both web construction and
    to wrap up and immobilize captured prey. Fine silk safety lines are also used frequently as spiders are
    often blown from their webs.
  • As engineers, spiders construct their webs in an organized and calculated manner. Since most webs span
    gaps that are too large for spiders to crawl across, spiders start by producing a sticky thread to drift on any
    wind that happens to be blowing. When the thread sticks to an object on the other end, the spider feels
    the change in vibration and then tightens and strengthens this foundational strand.
  • After fortifying this first strand, the spider starts to make V-shaped strands that extend outwardly from the center. These outward (radial) strands are added while making sure that distance between them is small
    enough for the spider to easily cross. After the outward strands are finished, the spider strengthens the
    center of the web with circular strands as it works its way from the inside out. Finally, the spider
    replaces these circular strands with sticky ones that are designed to capture prey.
  • Scientists have only recently been able to create a new material that mimics the spider silk’s strength and
    stretchiness. These lab-made fibers are created from substances called hydrogels that are 98 percent
    water and 2 percent silica and cellulose. While still in development, this material offers the possibility of
    improving the strength and performance of lots of products including helmets, body armor, and airplane

The Challenge:

Design a model spider web that will cross a gap and catch a model insect.

The Materials:

  • Your choice of yarn, string, or dental floss to form your web.
  • Your choice of a paper plate, piece of poster board or cardboard, or a piece of foam
    board as the web foundation.
  • Scotch Tape
  • Scissors
  • Hole Punch
  • Insect (Cotton balls, plastic bugs, etc.)

The Experiment:

  • Decide which material to use as your webbing.
  • Decide which material will serve as your foundation.
  • Brainstorm a web design that you think will work best.
  • Build your spider web. Try and start with the foundational thread just like a spider would.
  • Test your web to see if it will catch an “insect.”
  • Send us your results

Once you have finished this challenge, email our Youth Services Manager, Gina Knowlton,  Please include your first and last name, a picture of your spider web, and tell us how many “insects” it caught.

We will post the challenge winner’s Spider Web on our Facebook page on Thursday, October 8th!