How spiders listen around them through their webs could help design better microphones and predictive acoustic systems

Bridge spiders, or Larinioides sclopetarius, are orb-weaving spiders that emit sounds and listen to their environment through their webs. This is due to the fact that they do not have ears like humans and many other animals do.

Researchers at Binghamton University have been studying the arachnids and discovered that their webs act as external eardrums, capable of detecting sounds from up to 10 feet away. Unlike human ears, which are affected by air pressure, spider silk vibrates in the airflow created by sound waves, allowing the spiders to feel these motions and "hear" the noises.

According to Ron Miles, a mechanical engineer at Binghamton University, this knowledge could revolutionize human sound engineering. Currently, microphones are designed to mimic human eardrums, but there is a limitation in how small they can become whilst maintaining high power and sensitivity.

As spider silk is not created by spiders, it is impractical to use it to make billions of microphones each year. However, the material teaches engineers about the mechanical properties desirable in microphones and may inspire new designs.

Researchers are using this information to develop new instruments that can pick up extremely quiet sounds emitted by the human ear, which may help detect and treat hearing problems in infants. Spider silk-inspired acoustic systems may also enable researchers to pick up on other sounds outside the human ear's range, such as low-frequency noises that precede the formation of tornadoes, which can be used to predict and track the storms.

Spiders' unique listening abilities highlight the sophistication of their silk webs and provide an opportunity for innovative human acoustic technology.

Would you like more information on this topic?

Read more