Water gathering webs described in Nature News 3 Feb 2010, Nature, vol. 463, p640 and BBC News 4 Feb 2010. A group of Chinese scientists have studied the microscopic structure of spider silk in wet and dry conditions to see how spider webs collect water droplets when exposed to mist and fog. The researchers found that dry spider silk consists of a series of rounded puffs linked together by short narrow strands called joints. The puffs consist of bunches of randomly tangled fine fibres. When the silk is exposed to fog the puffs condense to form tightly packed spindle shaped structures. As water condenses on the silk it moves towards the puffs and coalesces into drops. The difference between the rough puffs and smooth joints makes the water move along the joints and stick to the puffs. The shape of the puffs also draws the water towards their centres so that the water droplets coalesce and grow.

To confirm that it was the joint and puff structure that enabled the drop formation, the scientists also examined silkworm silk and nylon fibres, which do not have the puffs, under wet and dry conditions, and found these did not collect water like the spider silk. They then made an artificial thread with a similar structure of spindle shaped knots and smooth joints using nylon fibres and found this could collect water, but did not form as large drops as the spider silk. The researchers are hoping to use their findings to develop artificial materials that could be used as catalysts or filters to draw substances out of chemical reactions. Brent Opell commented: “It is impressive that they were able to produce an analogue of wetted [spider] thread that duplicated the properties that they observed.”

The spider silk’s efficiency at collecting water did not impress spider silk expert Brent Opell of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, who has commented: “From a spider’s perspective, this is a bad thing because it reduces the web’s ability to capture prey.” Fritz Vollrath, a zoologist and spider-silk expert at the University of Oxford commented: “The authors of this paper are studying an artefact, which is still interesting although it has no biological function”.


Editorial Comment: Since all animals need water, collecting water is a biological function. To an evolutionist kill or be killed mentality, water collecting webs make little sense. But, pause and change the perspective first to an original good world that God made where a mist rose up every day to water the earth (Genesis 2:6). The study above shows spider webs are particularly well designed to collect such water. Whenever they do this today in wet and misty weather, the spider will then eat the web, water and all. Many Australian spiders take in their web every morning and many spiders also regularly eat their webs to keep up their levels of protein.

Secondly, add the Genesis data that the original good world was a place where all animals were vegetarian (Gen 1:26-31). Even today spiders will eat pollen and other plant matter, but in a world which is no longer good due to man’s rebellion, both water and protein are scarcer, so spiders have taken to sucking on careless bugs and other creatures that stray into their predesigned sticky webs.

We agree with Opell’s comment that producing water collecting threads is an impressive feat. However, what we really have is that an original function – to catch and hold water and pollen, is now also able to be used for another function – to trap careless insects whose juices will supplement “Incy Wincy Spider’s” now diet-challenged existence.

One more comment can be made on the design function – and it is almost repetitious but necessary – if scientific researchers are going to improve man-made thread to match the efficiency of natural spider silk they will need to employ more creative intelligence, not leave their threads lying around waiting for them to evolve. (Ref. design, arachnids, biomimetics)

Evidence News 22 June 2011