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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Today At The End Of My Wand ...

Dusting wand … you know, a poofy thing with a telescoping handle that extends to get in all the ceiling nooks and crannies. I had to get the “weapon” out of the closet because the cobwebs in my relatively small apartment were driving me crazy. It’s a Wednesday and I just did this same chore a few days earlier. Never mind that cobwebs mean spiders … shudder, Shudder, SHUDDER!! … but how do they rebuild them so damn fast? Are busloads of Charlotte’s arriving each morning right after I leave for work? Do spiders disobey child labor law,s because you know they each have up to 3,000 young’uns at a time? Am I being targeted by an arachnid terrorist group for some accidental deed?

Spiders … eight-legged arachnids that possess uniquely-fused segments, have no antennae, and utilize projections near their mouths to both grab food and house venom-injecting fangs … come in nearly 40,000 species and have been roaming the Earth for about 140 million years. That's much longer than the Dustbuster and the Swiffer combined.

First evolved for protection and then to trap prey, spider webs are produced by a unique and coordinated biological arrangement of abdominal appendages called “spinnerets” that extrude protein-rich materials secreted by as many as six types of silk glands. Spinnerets typically operate in pairs, producing a function-specific type of silk. Different species of spiders have varied numbers of spinnerets.

Entomologists have cataloged eight different silk types, such as a basic thread-like structure that is often trailed like a safety line, a “sticky” capture silk that uses a biological glue to entrap prey, and a finer silk used for wrapping prey. The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity. Studies of spider silk are proving to have both industrial and medical applications. Military scientists are applying research results to the development of stronger bullet-proof vests. Manufacturers are investigating methods for improving silk fabric production. Medical specialists are looking at spider silk’s microstructure for the development of artificial tendons and for wound care … spider silk is rich in vitamin K, an effective blood clotting agent.

But for me, the significance is that spider silk becomes spider webs. Spider webs are typically constructed when extruded silk if run between a space and then patterned into concentric, interconnected spirals. Spiders actually use their own bodies to make precise building measurements while spinning their webs and alternate the types of silk used to fit the purpose of the web. Webs are commonly about 20 times the size of the spider building it. And of course, some species of spiders work together to build communal webs. In 2007, a “group project” web was discovered in a Texas state park that measured more than 200 yards in length. Take that, feather duster!!

There are six basic types of spider webs:

  • Spiral orb webs (typically oriented on the vertical plane)
  • Funnel webs
  • Tubular webs (which run up the bases of trees or along the ground
  • Sheet webs (commonly oriented along the horizontal plane)
  • Tent or dome webs
  • Tangle webs

Tangle webs … often referred to as cob webs from the Old English word “coppe” which meant spider … are produced by the Theridiidae family of spiders, one of the largest subgroups with more than 2,200 species. Tangle webs seem to be random constructions, made up of haphazard patterns of stitched lines and silk and strands. Tangle webs do double duty as insect traps and temporary housing for spiders as they migrate from location to location, so quiet corners and dark places are often ideal sites for their construction. This type of web has unusually high amounts of biological adhesives. Once abandoned, they attract dust and debris quickly, making them highly visible.

So basically, cob webs are simply a type of less sophisticated spider web that is no longer in use. My ceilings and tiny closets and damp, dingy bathroom walls are simply the sites of abandoned homes … tenements … housing projects gone bad! Smack me with a vacuum cleaner and call me a slob!

OF RANT: You know those movies where grown children come back to visit their childhood home? What is all those spiders make a similar trip at the SAME TIME?!

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