Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 12120–12125 (2017)


Man-made flow sensors trade sensitivity for bandwidth — or vice versa — and typically meet limitations on small length scales due to their size and power consumption. Nature, by contrast, boasts myriad sensors that outperform our best efforts. And now, Jian Zhou and Ronald Miles have demonstrated that spider silk (pictured) may offer the most efficient example to date, claiming the sensitivity of an ideal resonant sensor without succumbing to the usual bandwidth limitations.

Zhou and Miles recorded sound from the motion of a strand of spider silk subjected to acoustic signals that ranged in frequency from the beating of an insect's wings all the way up to birdsong. A laser vibrometer measured the motion, which was found to capture the broadband acoustic signals with high fidelity. The implication is that a spider may be capable of processing an acoustic signal — be it from a potential mate or an incoming predator — directly through its web.