What Are Spider Webs Made Of? (Explained)

While it’s common to see spiderwebs, it isn’t easy to tell where that webbing comes from. Even if you watch a spider spin its web, there’s not an easy way to see where that webbing comes from. If you’ve ever wondered what spider webs are made of or where do spider webs come out of, you might be surprised by the answer.

Every spider species can use its body to make a protein fiber called spider silk. Most spiders release silk from glands along their abdomen called spinnerets, but some species, like tarantula, can shoot webbing from their feet! Other species, like the spitting spider, can shoot webs out of its mouth!

What Are Spider Webs Made Of?

Long Bodied Cellar Spider
Long-bodied Cellar Spider | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A spider’s silk is made up of proteins from its internal glands. Spiders are able to weave these protein chains into a strong and flexible fiber. One string of a spider web is actually made up of thousands of nanostrands that are too small to be seen by the human eye.

Even though spider silk is known for being thin and lightweight, it’s actually one of the world’s toughest materials. In fact, a spiderweb can be up to five times stronger than steel! Spider silk can be stretched many times before it breaks, and it’s capable of absorbing large amounts of energy.

While all spider silk is made from liquid protein, many spiders are capable of producing different kinds of silk. There are seven known types of spider silk, and each type has its own unique properties. This allows spiders to use the silk they make in all kinds of ways.

How Do Spiders Make Silk?

orb weaver spider by Brett Hondow from Pixabay

Spiders have internal glands that make a watery liquid protein. A spider can release that liquid in a hardened form through a silk-spinning organ called a spinneret. While not all spider spinnerets are the same, many spiders have spinnerets made up of lots of spigots, which each release a single strand of silk. The spider can weave those strands into a stronger material.

Usually, a spider’s spinnerets are located along its rear abdomen, but that isn’t always the case. Tarantulas have spigots on their feet that they can use to produce sticky webbing. This allows tarantulas to cling to the surfaces that they climb, just like Spider-Man!

Spitting spiders have glands in their mouths, which they can use to shoot venomous liquid silk at targets. Ground spiders have oversized, barrel-like spinnerets near the front of their abdomen, which it can use to quickly entangle its prey in glue-like webbing. Crab spiders have six spinnerets across its abdomen and a seventh spinneret in its anus.

Can All Spiders Make Webs?

Spider eggs cocooned on web
Spider eggs cocooned on web by Michael from Pixabay

Even though spiders are known for their webs, most spider species don’t make webs at all. All spiders make silk, but these arachnids can use silk in all kinds of ways. In addition to making webs, spiders can eat their silk, use it to create trails, and can even use it to fly through the air.

Many spider species, including bridge spiders and gray cross spiders, can use strands of silk to soar through the air on wind currents. These spiders essentially use their silk as a parachute. This form of movement, which is usually called ballooning, allows spiders to quickly travel from one location to another.

The bolas spider is known for using its silk to fish for prey! It releases a single strand of silk with a large, sticky orb at the end. The spider swings its web at prey like moths and reels the string in once it makes a catch, similar to the way a fisherman reels in fish!

Spiders may also use silk during reproduction. Both male and female spiders are known for using silk during courtship, and spiders can also use their webbing to create a cocoon that protects eggs until they hatch. A single silk cocoon can contain hundreds or even thousands of spider eggs.

Where Do Cobwebs Come From?

Cobweb
Cobweb by Samitinjay V from Pixabay

Even though spiders silk is very strong, a spider’s web will still weaken as time goes on. When a web becomes too weak, a spider will usually abandon that web and weave a new one, leaving behind a cobweb. Although the term “cobweb” describes any abandoned spiderweb, cobweb spiders are known for weaving disorganized webs that look like cobwebs!

Spiders that make webs can produce webs in all kinds of shapes, including sheet webs, lace webs, and dome webs. While spiders usually use these webs to trap prey, there are many spiders that also use their webbing to make nests. Any type of spider web can become a cobweb once a spider leaves it behind.

Conclusion

The silk made by spiders might look flimsy, but it can be five times as strong as steel! Spiders make this silk from protein that it produces in glands on its body.

While most spiders have silk organs on their abdomens, spider webs can also come from a spider’s feet, mouth, or other parts of its body depending on the species. Spiders are fascinating creatures, and the things they can do with their webbing are nothing short of incredible.