British scientists say they’ve discovered how spiders are able to fly into new territory on single strands of silk, at times going hundreds of miles.
The researchers at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, England, have found that in turbulent air the spiders’ silk uses the eddies of the airflow to carry them farther.
The scientists realized the existing 20-year-old models used to explain the phenomenon failed to adequately deal with anything other than perfectly still air. Called Humphrey’s model, it made assumptions that the spider silk was rigid and straight and the spiders were just blobs hanging onto the bottom.
The new mathematical model allows for elasticity and flexibility of a spider’s dragline.
Professor Julia Goodfellow, chief executive of Britain’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: "The exciting thing about this research is that it not only explains a long-standing question, but also shows how ecologists, mathematicians and physical scientists can draw on each others strengths.
The future face of bioscience is highly interdisciplinary and will require more collaboration between, for example, mathematicians and ecologists working together to answer biological questions.