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The Wide World of Spider Webs

It’s spider season! Spiders are becoming adults, so they are easier to spot at this time of year. Even if you don’t see a spider itself, maybe you can spot evidence of a spider nearby — a spider web!

A spider in its web. (Photo via Shutterstock)

What’s the point?

Why do spiders spin webs? The main reason is to catch their dinner! A spider will approach the prey trapped in the web and use its fangs to inject venom and enzymes. The venom kills or paralyzes the prey, while the enzymes break down the insect’s insides so the spider can swallow its meal. Yum, yum!

How do they do it?

It sounds weird to say that spiders spin silk. It all comes from their amazing bodies, from their silk glands. Spiders have special organs on their abdomens called spinnerets. Spinnerets and silk glands create the type of silk the spider needs — sometimes the silk is sticky, sometimes it is dry. It can also be thick or thin or beaded or smooth.

Spiders might make webs mostly to catch prey, but they create silk for lots of reasons. They use it to make nests to protect themselves. They add silk linings to the sides of their shelters for extra comfort. They use silk strings to find their way back home, as their own built-in safety net and so much more. But today we’re going to look at the four main types of webs spiders use to catch dinner.

Orb webs

An orb web. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Orb webs are flat, wheel-shaped webs designed to catch flying insects. The frame is made of strong silk. The circles are made of stretchy silk that is sticky. When a fly bumps into a web like this, it will get stuck.

Cobwebs or tangle webs

A cobweb, which is also called a tangle web. (Photo via Shutterstock)

These 3D webs look messy, but they’re still very good at catching prey. Called cobwebs or tangle webs, the very thin silk stretches out in all directions in no pattern. But if an insect crawls out from a leaf onto one of these strands, the thin silk will snap. The insect will plunge down into the sticky mess, unable to free itself. Cobwebs use silk so thin that we usually don’t see the strands until the spider has left the web and it’s covered in dust.

Sheet webs

A sheet web. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Sheet webs are like deadly hammocks. They’re stretched over grass or the leaves of a bush. Sheet webs have a lot of sticky threads in the center that are like a hammock. Connecting the hammock to the leaves are a bunch of threads that act as trip wires. When an insect flies into the trip wire threads, they get knocked off course and fall into the sticky hammock below. They are stuck and can’t move. Sheet webs are easiest to spot in the morning, when they’re covered in dew.

Funnel webs

A spider in a funnel web. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Can you guess what funnel webs are shaped like? Yep, a funnel! They are usually wide at the top or front and get more narrow as they go down. Insects get stuck in the web, and the spider can sit and wait at the bottom for its prey.

Want to learn more about spiders?

If you want to learn even more about spiders, the Forest Preserve District of Will County has several opportunities coming up:

  • Simply Spiders is a Zoom webinar presentation that will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, September 9.

  • Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon will host an in-person Spider Hike at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 15.

  • Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville will host an in-person Spider Eye Shine Hike at 7 p.m. Friday, October 2.


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