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Editor's Note: A Stronger Web

​Cribellate spiders have a secret weapon. Scientists have long known that these spiders have a unique way of snaring their prey. While most spider webs are made of silk lined with a glue that causes straying insects to become entrapped, the cribellate webs are fuzzy, not sticky. However, the webs trap even the most active insects. Scientists were unsure how the dry webs were so effective.

Researcher Raya Bott along with a team at RWTH Aachen University in Germany discovered that cribellate spiders use the bodies of their prey to reinforce the web. Those fuzzy fibers on cribellate silk contain chemicals that bond with insects. 

In his May 31, 2017, article, “The Spider Web That Gets Stronger When It Touches Insects,” Ed Yong of The Atlantic explains: “When an insect touches the strands, waxy chemicals in its outer surface get sucked into the woolly nanofibers and reinforce them, turning the tangled mass of delicate threads into a solid, sturdy rope. The victim literally becomes a part of the web, inadvertently strengthening the instrument of its own capture.”

The scientists suspect that the silk of the web and the outer shell of the insect fuse using the same forces that “hold molecules together over very small distances,” says Yong.

Security experts have long known that collaboration is their secret weapon. When combined with technology and policy, collaboration can fuse individual ideas into a cohesive, more effective whole.

This month’s cover story “Houston’s Game Day Solutions,” by Assistant Editor Lilly Chapa, unveils this principle in action. Approaching the numerous events and large crowds surrounding the 2017 NFL Super Bowl, the city found its protective network of security cameras and devices under strain. The usual wireless networks that connected security devices such as cameras and sensors to the city’s command center were overburdened with the cell phone traffic of visitors and commercial users.

A multidisciplinary team of vendors, wireless providers, and city officials collaborated to expand network capacity and to devise new ways to take advantage of an unoccupied part of the spectrum. The security command center augmented an overburdened GPS with a dispatch officer who watched video feeds to provide directions to the first responders on the ground. The fibers and tendrils of the security system combined with these new solutions to create a stronger, more flexible net to deter wrongdoers and address any safety issues that arose.

Like the cribellate spider’s reinforced web, the new infrastructure devices assembled for the Super Bowl events will stay in place, reinforcing the city’s security. The challenge of the event drew stakeholders together, created new solutions, and made Houston’s web stronger.