Ultrastructure of spider thread anchorages

Marina Wirth, Jonas O. Wolff*, Esther Appel, Stanislav N. Gorb

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Spiders attach silken threads to substrates by means of glue-coated nanofibers (piriform silk), spun into disc-like structures. The organization and ultrastructure of this nano-composite silk are largely unknown, despite their implications for the biomechanical function and material properties of thread anchorages. In this work, the ultrastructure of silken attachment discs was studied in representatives of four spider families with Transmission Electron Microscopy to facilitate a mechanistic understanding of piriform silk function across spiders. Based on previous findings from comparative studies of piriform silk gland morphology, we hypothesized that the fibre-glue proportion of piriform silk differs in different spiders, while the composition of fibre and glue fractions is consistent. Results confirmed large differences in the relative proportion of glue with low amounts in the orb weaver Nephila senegalensis (Araneidae) and the hunting spider Cupiennius salei (Ctenidae), larger amounts in the cobweb spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum (Theridiidae) and a complete reduction of the fibrous component in the haplogyne spider Pholcus phalangioides (Pholcidae). We rejected our hypothesis that glue ultrastructure is consistent. The glue is a colloid with polymeric and fluid fractions that strongly differ in proportions and assembly. We further confirmed that in all species studied both dragline and piriform silk fibres do not make contact with the environmental substrate. Instead, adhesion is established by a thin dense skin layer of the piriform glue. These results advance our understanding of piriform silk function and the interspecific variation of its properties, which is significant for spider biology, web function and the bioengineering of silk.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)534-543
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Morphology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


    • adhesion
    • fixation technique
    • major ampullate silk
    • nano-fibre
    • piriform silk
    • spider silk


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