Quirks & Quarks

Do spiders learn to weave better webs?

Spiders learn to adjust and even reinforce their webs based on where and when they have been successful previously
This black widow spider may be improving its web in order to catch more prey (Mark_Kostich/Shutterstock)

This week's question comes from Emily Trim in Sooke, British Columbia. She asks:

Do spiders get better at making their webs with experience?

Pierre-Olivier Montiglio, an assistant professor of behavioural ecology at the University of Quebec at Montreal, says we know that spiders are great learners. They can learn to adjust the tension of their web, or where they build their web, or which part of their web they will make larger. 

These changes are all based on where they captured prey previously, and what type of prey they caught in their web earlier. So they do learn, and improve or optimize their web in order that they can catch more and better prey. 

For example, cyclosa spiders build two-dimensional orb-webs. In experiments, if you feed them in specific sections of their web they will change the geometry of that part of the web to increase its effectiveness  by adding more silk threads. 

They will also build webs so that they can detect more subtle vibrations in those parts where prey are more commonly caught. 

It is difficult to say for certain if all spiders learn to build better webs based on previous success, but researchers like Montiglio feel that many do over the course of their lifetime. 



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