Photoreflectance/scattering measurements of spider silks informed by standard optics

Sean J. Blamires, Douglas J. Little, Thomas E. White, Deb M. Kane*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


The silks of certain orb weaving spiders are emerging as highquality optical materials. This motivates study of the optical properties of such silk and particularly the comparative optical properties of the silks of different species. Any differences in optical properties may impart biological advantage for a spider species and make the silks interesting for biomimetic prospecting as optical materials. A prior study of the reflectance of spider silks from 18 species reported results for three species of modern orb weaving spiders (Nephila clavipes, Argiope argentata and Micrathena Schreibersi) as having reduced reflectance in the UV range. (Modern in the context used here means more recently derived.) The reduced UV reflectance was interpreted as an adaptive advantage in making the silks less visible to insects. Herein, a standard, experimental technique for measuring the reflectance spectrum of diffuse surfaces, using commercially available equipment, has been applied to samples of the silks of four modern species of orb weaving spiders: Phonognatha graeffei, Eriophora transmarina, Nephila plumipes and Argiope keyserlingi. This is a different technique than used in the previous study. Three of the four silks measured have a reduced signal in the UV. By taking the form of the silks as optical elements into account, it is shown that this is attributable to a combination of wavelengthdependent absorption and scattering by the silks rather than differences in reflectance for the different silks. Phonognatha graeffei dragline silk emerges as a very interesting spider silk with a flat 'reflectance'/scattering spectrum which may indicate it is a low UV absorbing dielectric micro-fibre. Overall the measurement emerges as having the potential to compare the large numbers of silks from different species to prospect for those which have desirable optical properties.

Original languageEnglish
Article number192174
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • Absorption
  • Dragline
  • Reflectance
  • Scattering
  • Spider silk


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