Artificial intelligence reveals the secrets of the spider’s web
Nephila clavata, an orb weaver. – Photo by Kinori via Wikimedia / Public domain
Despite years of in-depth study, there is still a lot to learn about a spider’s web, from intricate patterns to tensile strength and optoelectronic architectures. Webs are very complex structures, like cobwebs actively darting towards prey due to the electrically conductive glue spread over their surface.
Webs also contain several types of silk, with viscous silk (elastic, wet and tacky) and dragline silk (stiff and dry) being responsible for the strength of the fabric.
In a recently published research topic, scientists at Johns Hopkins University discovered how spiders build webs. This was revealed through a combination of night vision and artificial intelligence.
Night vision recording allowed researchers to track and record every movement of the spiders working in the dark. This made it possible to develop an algorithm that made it possible to understand how spiders are able to create webs – structures of elegance, complexity and geometric precision.
The study reveals that the basis of the construction of choreographed webs is the spider’s sense of touch (vision is not a major feature of the night process). It requires innate behaviors and finely tuned motor skills.
The first wave of the study consisted of evaluating six spiders. To do this, millions of individual leg actions were captured and then evaluated using machine vision software, specially designed to detect each individual limb movement.
From a subsequent examination of different spiders, it became evident that web-making behaviors are remarkably similar from one spider to another. Evaluating the models using AI allowed researchers to predict which part of a web a spider was working on simply by seeing the position of a leg. This led scientists to propose that a rules-based system for building webs was at play, even though the individual webs of different spider species differed.
This led to the research finding that the rules of website building are encoded in the brains of all species of spiders.
The research led to a website building manual that brings a new understanding of how website building works, over a period of several hours. The researchers produced a video that explains more aspects of the research.
Beyond the first phase of the research, scientists plan to conduct experiments using psychotropic drugs on different spiders. The goal here is to determine the specific circuits of the spider’s brain which are responsible for the various stages of the construction of the web.
The research is presented in the journal Current biology, with the article titled “Distinct Movement Patterns Generate Spider Web Building Stages.”