When plucked like a guitar string, the sound of silk gives information about prey, mates and even the structural integrity of a web to the spider, a research shows.
"Most spiders have poor eyesight and rely almost exclusively on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information," said Beth Mortimer from Oxford Silk Group at Oxford University.
"By plucking the silk like a guitar string and listening to the 'echoes', the spider can also assess the condition of its web," Mortimer said.
The discovery was made by researchers who fired bullets and lasers at spider silk to study how it vibrates.
This quality is used by the spider in its web by "tuning" the silk: controlling and adjusting both the inherent properties of the silk, and the tensions and interconnectivities of the silk threads that make up the web.
To study the sonic properties of the spider's gossamer threads, the researchers used ultra-high-speed cameras to film the threads as they responded to the impact of bullets.
In addition, lasers were used to make detailed measurements of even the smallest vibration.
"The fact that spiders can receive nanometre vibrations with organs on each of their legs - called slit sensillae - really exemplifies the impact of our research about silk properties found in our study," said Shira Gordon from University of Strathclyde in Britain.
The findings not only reveal more about spiders but could also inspire a wide range of new technologies such as tiny light-weight sensors, said the study reported in the journal Advanced Materials.