Nanoscale material heterogeneity of glowworm capture threads revealed by AFM

Dakota Piorkowski*, Bo-Ching He, Sean J. Blamires, I-Min Tso, Deborah M. Kane

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)
    29 Downloads (Pure)


    Adhesive materials used by many arthropods for biological functions incorporate sticky substances and a supporting material that operate synergistically by exploiting substrate attachment and energy dissipation. While there has been much focus on the composition and properties of the sticky glues of these bio-composites, less attention has been given to the materials that support them. In particular, as these materials are primarily responsible for dissipation during adhesive pull-off, little is known of the structures that give rise to functionality, especially at the nano-scale. In this study we used tapping mode atomic force microscopy (TM-AFM) to analyze unstretched and stretched glowworm (Arachnocampa tasmaniensis) capture threads and revealed nano-scale features corresponding to variation in surface structure and elastic modulus near the surface of the silk. Phase images demonstrated a high resolution of viscoelastic variation and revealed mostly globular and elongated features in the material. Increased vertical orientation of 11–15 nm wide fibrillar features was observed in stretched threads. Fast Fourier transform analysis of phase images confirmed these results. Relative viscoelastic properties were also highly variable at inter-and intra-individual levels. Results of this study demonstrate the practical usefulness of TM-AFM, especially phase angle imaging, in investigating the nano-scale structures that give rise to macro-scale function of soft and highly heterogeneous materials of both natural and synthetic origins.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number3500
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • Arachnocampa
    • Biofiber
    • Biological material
    • Height image


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