Similar to electrostatic dust cloths, spider webs attract electrically charged prey. The electricity, in this case, is derived from flapping.
The discovery, outlined in the latest issue of Scientific Reports, could help to explain how spider webs evolved. Light, flexible spider silk easily deforms in the wind and electrostatic charges to aid prey capture. Were it not for such flexibility, the flying insect could just bounce off and zip on its way.
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"Electrostatic charges are everywhere, and we propose that this may have driven the evolution of specialized webs," Victor Manuel Ortega-Jimenez, a UC Berkeley researcher who worked on the study, said in a press release.
Ortega-Jimenez most often studies hummingbird flight, but he had a light bulb moment while playing with his 4-year-old daughter.
"I was playing with my daughter's magic wand, a toy that produces an electrostatic charge, and I noticed that the positive charge attracted spider webs," he said. "I then realized that if an insect is positively charged too it could perhaps attract an oppositely charged spider web to affect the capture success of the spider web."