Through a research study conducted at the University of Notre Dame which focused on the black widow species of spider has shown that spiderwebs contain both the spider’s DNA and also that of its prey.
By comparing the mitochondrial DNA genetic sequences procured directly from the spider and the ones from its web, scientists have discovered that the DNA does not show any differences between the two. Up to this point, spiders could only be identified from a DNA point of view only through invasive methods applied directly to the spider.
Not only that, but by putting the spiders on a weekly long diet of house crickets, the webs started to contain the cricket DNA as well, thus creating a sort of crime scene inside the DNA composition of the spiderweb. Up until this point, this type of mitochondrial DNA research was deemed impossible because science was not advanced enough to differentiate clearly between the two separate strands of said DNA found in the spider’s web.
This is also helped by the fact that genetic information can be identified on the web several months after the spider which created it has died, mainly due to the fact that DNA has a very long lifetime before it eventually degrades.
The applications of said discovery will help with identifying spiders in a more reliable fashion while at the same time helping with the conservation of endangered species. Researchers will no longer be required to find the actual spider in order to identify its species and its habitat, they can just check the DNA of the web. It also provides a non-invasive technique of identifying said spider from a genetic point of view, no longer requiring its capture so that one may test it.
Because of its trapping nature, spider webs also act like a sort of biodiversity tracker inside a certain environment. On the grounds that spiderwebs usually span over a long distance, with some reaching over 80 feet when looking at spider webs built by entire colonies of spiders, scientists can now study the biodiversity present there in a more accurate manner.
This can also be used for stop access in some areas were poisonous spiders roam, by carefully monitoring the placement of their webs and their usual diet in order to discern where the next web will be eventually built.
Spiders have now become invaluable assets to environmental and wildlife researchers because their spiderwebs contain both the spider’s DNA and also that of its prey, forming a sort of fingerprint of the entire region for both insects and the predators which hunt them.