Listening to the music of spiderwebs

A team of scientists at MIT have put together a program that 'plays' the sounds of web vibrations
If we could hear it, what might the vibrations of a spiderweb sound like? (ID 39129480 © Songallery | Dreamstime.com)


Spiders are mysterious creatures.

These agile web-spinners have a movement and behaviour that is seemingly all their own. It's no wonder that we can't quite relate to an eight-legged animal that can walk on ceilings and endlessly self-generate sticky threads that are stronger than steel.

It also doesn't help that we don't see the world the way that spiders do. Or more specifically, we don't feel it as they do.

Spiders have a very keen sense of touch that is the key to survival, especially when connected to their web. Vibrations along the threads of the web tell them about other creatures nearby—whether they are a potential mate, a potential meal, or a potential threat.

Now, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have turned those vibrations into something that we can hear. They have simulated the music of spiderwebs!

Map it out

To do this, the scientists first mapped out the web of a tropical tent-web spider.

These spiders do not build what many of us might think of as the classic spider web—something that is fairly flat and round. Instead, they build an impressive 3D criss-crossing rectangle that is something like a maze—a deadly one for any insects that happen to wander in.

Once they had the web mapped, they used an algorithm (a computer-generated series of parameters) to give each thread of the web a note. This was based on stuff like the length of the thread and how it was positioned in the web. Then they 'played' the web, letting us hear the things that the spiders feel.

Check it out below.

Pulling strings

To be clear, this is all just a simulation. Whatever actual 'notes' real spiderwebs play, they're not anything that is in the range of human hearing. And the spider probably registers them as vibrations, not sound.

But as an exercise, it's pretty cool! After all, from pianos to guitars to violins, so much of the music that we hear is caused by vibrating strings. But translating spiderwebs into music, we can get a little closer to imagining what it would be like to be a spider!

Listen to more below, as well as an explanation of the project by MIT's Markus Buehler who helped lead the project.


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