Spiders spend their time spinning perfect, intricate webs that are stronger than steel and more elastic than a rubber band. But this feat requires very little brainpower. A new study indicates that a spider’s legs act without oversight from its brain, constructing webs with the same autonomy as a human heart beat.
By filming and evaluating the movements of a common garden spider (Araneus diadematus, to be precise), researchers Fritz Vollrath and Thiemo Krink found that spider legs repeat a fixed “action pattern” to measure and organize each strand of web. Each leg acts as an independent agent during this building process, freeing the spider to look for predators and other threats. You can see an example of a spider’s web-building “action pattern” in the video below, along with a few words from researcher Thiemo Krink.
This decentralized web-spinning helps to explain how regrown spider legs, which are rarely the same size or shape as the leg they replaced, spin perfect webs without any practice. Because the spider doesn’t “know” how to build webs with its legs, it doesn’t have to relearn web-spinning when it grows a replacement leg.
Fritz Vollrath and Thiemo Krink hope that this research could help develop advanced robot limbs, which might benefit from some automated functions. A robotic limb could anticipate your intended movements, for example, saving you time and effort that you might otherwise spend micromanaging each of the prosthetics’ components.