David Attenborough’s observations of the natural world sometimes make you feel quite, well, rubbish. We aren’t as fast as cheetahs, nor are we as strong as gorillas. We can’t fly, and despite being as clumsy as penguins, we can’t swim at incredible speeds either. We can’t even see anywhere near as many colors as the gloriously aggressive mantis shrimp.
Then you have spiders, who are constantly pissing on our proverbial bonfires. Take Darwin’s bark spider, for example. Its orb web-making skills are seriously impressive: It can create webs that are 28,000 square centimeters (30 square feet) big and can be up to 25 meters (82 feet) long. Each strand is 10 times tougher than a similarly sized piece of Kevlar, which means its silk is the toughest biological material known to science.
This little critter – named precisely 150 years after the publication of Darwin’s magnum opus to the very day – is remarkable. However, the most fascinating aspect of it isn’t its web, but how it actually makes it.
As documented beautifully by BBC Earth, the female of the species starts its web crafting by balancing on a leaf and launching the silk across the gulf towards vegetation on the other size.
“Like a real life Spider-Woman, she sprays strands of silk in one long continuous flow,” Attenborough explains in his characteristically soothing voice. “The threads fan out like a sail and drift on air currents blowing across the water.”
Carefully controlling the outflow, the breeze essentially does most of the work in creating the web’s “bridge”. From that bridge, she hangs down and forges the rest of the web.
The real life Spider-Woman. BBC Earth via YouTube
The video reveals that another opportunistic bark spider comes along to steal her web’s bridge from her. A dramatic showdown ensues, which ends with the line being cut by the original architect and sending her foe tumbling away. She reels in the extra threads, then begins her work again.
“How a spider no bigger than a thumbnail can produce so much silk, and so quickly, has baffled scientists,” the narration notes. An unresolved mystery for another time, then.
Compared to these spiders, the best we can do is continually reboot a fictional superhero’s adventures on the silver screen. As you may have realized, we don’t really have any superpowers.
Well, we suppose that you could argue that our species’ superpower is our innate ingenuity. After all, we got to the Moon and all that jazz – but then again, look what’s happening with climate change.