Few animals embody Halloween like spiders. Their webs are a universal symbol of spookiness, and their spindly shape can terrify a person 100 times their size. Most are actually harmless to people, but that does little to soften their sinister image.
Spiders are also some of the most successful carnivores on Earth, fine-tuned by a 300 million-year lineage that's at least 1,000 times older than humanity. They've split into more than 40,000 different species during that span, compared with about 4,000 known species of mammals. They now live on every continent but Antarctica, ranging in size from the 0.017-inch Patu marplesi to the foot-wide giant huntsman spider.
Yet despite all their diversity, one of spiders' most amazing feats is a skill they all have in common: making silk. A single strand of spider silk is finer than a human hair, but also five times stronger than steel of the same width. It can handle hurricane-force winds as well as Arctic winters, and a band 2 inches thick could stop a Boeing 747 in flight. It also comes in at least seven different varieties, compared with just one type of silkworm silk.
All this raises lots of scientific interest in spider silk, which has seemingly limitless industrial potential. It has already been used to make things like violin strings, capes and other textiles, and its molecular secrets could inspire synthetic spin-offs ranging from medical devices and biodegradable computer chips to bulletproof skin.
Still, our fascination with spiders is rooted in the beauty of their natural behavior, whether they're weaving webs by moonlight or swaddling bags full of babies. These creepy but captivating scenes made spiders a Halloween icon long ago, and they warrant a little appreciation this time of year. To help you catch the Halloween spirit, here are four short videos that illustrate the mystique of nature's spin doctors.
This French time-lapse video has struck a chord on the Web, snagging 179,000 views and a Vimeo Staff Pick badge in a year online. Compressed from 90 minutes of shooting, it's a tribute to the hypnotic rhythm of an orb-weaver spider earning its name:
2. "Spider web timelapse"
For a more haunting look at an orb-weaver, this nocturnal time-lapse adds eerier light, spookier music and a faster pace. Plus, overhead spiders are especially ominous:
3. "A Spiders Night"
More net web-weaving happens in this speedy time-lapse, which opts for moonlit silence instead of music. The rising moon adds temporal context and a Halloween vibe:
4. "Spider mom"
She may not be weaving a web, but the star of this spellbinding video is too skilled with silk to leave off the list. Watch as she whips up an egg sac teeming with tiny nightmares:
More spider stories on MNN:
- 8 superlative spiders [Photos]
- How to attract spiders to your garden
- Most 'spider bites' are something else
- Pakistani spiders encase trees in webs