June 24, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Spiderman No Match for Real Spider

National Geographic News took the occasion of the upcoming Spiderman sequel to investigate the superpowers of real spiders.  If you were spidy, you could:

  • Jump 50 times your body length.  That would be like a man jumping 300 feet (the world record is 29 feet, 4.5 inches).
  • Walk upside down on smooth surfaces, with 170 people hanging on.  Spiders do this with microscopic hairs that create atomic attraction forces.  Geckos have this ability, too (see 08/27/2002 headline), but spiders are not related to geckos.  One scientist remarked, “From a biological point of view, that was pretty astonishing.”
  • Weave webs out of material like flexible steel, with seven different kinds of thickness and adhesive strength.
  • Create beautiful works of art.  Some garden spiders incorporate spirals and crosses into their wagon-wheel shaped webs.

Cameron Walker writes, “Spiders aren’t swinging their way through the skyline or facing up to crazed criminals like Doc Ock, the villain in Spider-Man 2.  But they’ve got the wherewithal to survive in a range of environments that gives them their own extraordinary edge.”
    According to another spider story posted on National Geographic June 24, scientists are puzzling over why some spiders evolved the ability to spin symmetrical webs.  Another species with this ability was recently found in Peru.  One researcher from the Smithsonian said, “It’s interesting because it doesn’t make any sense.  There doesn’t seem to be any advantage to having a symmetrical web, yet it evolved independently among spiders more than once.  It’s not possible that this is a just random drift in evolution and these spiders are stumbling into the ability to measure things.  It must have evolved for a reason, but we don’t know what that reason is yet.”

Spiders deserve more respect than we give them.  We usually can’t step on them fast enough.  OK, so you don’t want them in the house.  At least live and let live outside, where they do you a lot of good (if you also despise flies).  And once in awhile, from a safe distance, take a good, long look at that miniature package of superpowers.  Nature is usually more entertaining and thought-provoking than a blockbuster movie.  That’s a good thing for a kid to learn.

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