Imaging and analysis of a threedimensional spider web architecture

Isabelle Su, Zhao Qin, Tomás Saraceno, Adrian Krell, Roland Mühlethaler, Ally Bisshop, Markus J. Buehler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Spiders are abundantly found in nature and most ecosystems, making up more than 47 000 species. This ecological success is in part due to the exceptional mechanics of the spider web, with its strength, toughness, elasticity and robustness, which originate from its hierarchical structures all the way from sequence design to web architecture. It is a unique example in nature of high-performance material design. In particular, to survive in different environments, spiders have optimized and adapted their web architecture by providing housing, protection, and an efficient tool for catching prey. The most studied web in literature is the two-dimensional (2D) orb web, which is composed of radial and spiral threads. However, only 10% of spider species are orb-web weavers, and three-dimensional (3D) webs, such as funnel, sheet or cobwebs, are much more abundant in nature. The complex spatial network and microscale size of silk fibres are significant challenges towards determining the topology of 3D webs, and only a limited number of previous studies have attempted to quantify their structure and properties. Here, we focus on developing an innovative experimental method to directly capture the complete digital 3D spiderweb architecture with micron scale resolution. We built an automatic segmentation and scanning platform to obtain high-resolution 2D images of individual cross-sections of the web that were illuminated by a sheet laser.We then developed image processing algorithms to reconstruct the digital 3D fibrous network by analysing the 2D images. This digital network provides a model that contains all of the structural and topological features of the porous regions of a 3Dweb with high fidelity, and when combined with a mechanical model of silk materials, will allow us to directly simulate and predict the mechanical response of a realistic 3D web under mechanical loads. Our work provides a practical tool to capture the architecture of sophisticated 3D webs, and could lead to studies of the relation between architecture, material and biological functions for numerous 3D spider web applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number0193
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number146
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D spider web
  • biomaterial
  • fibre
  • imaging
  • modelling
  • structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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