Charlotte's Web: Pre-First's Small Group ChallengeEngineering Spider Webs

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The Orb Spider Web Structure

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A Real Charlotte's Web Story

There is a Garden Orb Web Spider living in my backyard since earlier this year. Let's call her Charlotte. I recorded in detail how she builds her web.
The spider's web is made of a specific type of spider silk. Spiders can generate different types of silk to build different parts of their webs.


During the day, Charlotte hides herself between the leaves. She packed her legs together without any motion for the whole day. As usual, she left the bridge thread at her usual building site. She has been building webs at this location for over months.

Bridge Thread - Bridge thread is constructed with a very strong spider silk. Usually Charlotte comes back and forth along the bridge thread, to lay more silk on it to make it stronger. The bridge thread supports the weight of the whole web.

After sunset, when the sky is completely dark, Charlotte comes out to inspect her bridge thread. If it is still there, most likely she will build her web in the same location. If the bridge thread is missing, she has to make a bridge thread by kiting. This is to let the wind to blow the silk, until the silk connects with something. Today, the bridge thread is still there so Charlotte can start to build her web as normal.
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Kiting - This is to let the wind to blow the silk, until the silk connects with something.

Charlotte came back and forth along the bridge thread, adding more silk on it to make it stronger. Then she will start to set the center of the web.
Charlotte will set several anchor threads and points. One anchor point is on the ground. The ground is a very dangerous place for spiders. There may be ants, lizards or other enemies. So Charlotte will lay the ground anchor point very carefully.
Anchor thread - The spider carefully selects the anchor point and lay the anchor thread. Anchor thread is also constructed of strong silk, but usually it is only one single thread.

Then Charlotte puts some frame threads between those anchor points. This will be the outside frame of the web.
Frame thread - A frame thread is attached on both sides on anchor thread. Together with the anchor thread, they form the outside frame of the spider web. A frame thread is constructed by less strong silk, and is only one single thread.


After placing the frame threads, Charlotte starts to lay the radius. The silks used to make the frame and radius are not sticky. They serve to support the web. And Charlotte will walk on those radii so she will not be entangled by her own silk.

Radius - Radius is the silk connected from the center of the web to the frame. The silk used to make the frames and radius are not sticky. They serve to support. The spider will walk on those radii and not be entangled by its own silk.

Charlotte goes back and forth from the web center and the frame to lay the radius. She checks every angle between radius. She checks all angles to make sure she does not miss any radii.

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Then Charlotte puts down the auxiliary spiral silk, from center spiral out to the frame. This auxiliary spiral silk will be used as reference for laying the capture spiral, the sticky silk. The auxiliary spiral silk will be removed later.

Auxiliary spiral - The auxiliary spiral is used as a reference for laying the capture spiral, the sticky silk. Most spiders will remove the auxiliary spiral silk when laying the capture spiral silk.

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When Charlotte reaches the outer most frame, she returns and starts to lay capture spiral, the sticky silk. She spirals from outside towards the center. She uses the auxiliary spiral silk as reference, our guidelines, and will remove it in time.

Capture spiral - Capture spiral is the only sticky silk on the spider web. It will entangle prey if they enter the web.

The web is finished when Charlotte lays the sticky silk close enough to the center. Charlotte takes about two hours to build her web. Then she sits in the center of the web, with each leg on each silk sensing if there is any prey caught.


Types of Webs

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Activity One: Teamwork Webbing - More Than Bear-able!

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Activity Two: Communicating through Engineered Spider WebsBe a 'Charlotte' (or 'Charlie')!



All purpose Flour, Vegetable Oil, Cream of Tartar Sauce, Salt, Hot Water


Mix up the recipe according to the instructions on The Imagination Tree – before adding the hot water add in the spices and the orange flavor/oil. Once the dough is formed add in the orange food coloring and blend it to form a strong orange color to the play dough. This dough is fantastic and can be stored in a zip lock bag or a air tight container and used over and over again.

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Start off cutting the straws into small sections – this is great for scissor skills for preschoolers – the straws don’t have to be the same length or even of a certain length.
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Break up the playdough into small balls and then place the straws in – perhaps starting with a 5 spokes out from the center. Weave in the center or later the message or initials.
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At the end of each straw place another ball and connect more straws going to join with the next spoke creating the cross parts and out again.
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All the time keep looking back at the spiders web we discussed to see how one was joined together. Think about the questions we considered – “What do the spiders use instead of playdough to make the web stick?”, “Why doesn’t the web break when the wind blows a little bit?”, and “Where does the web come from?”
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This is a 2D web needs to be built on poster board or tag board for support.

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