Spider-Man Worm Shoots Sticky Webs Out of 'Slime Jets'

Tuesday, 17 March 2015 - 1:12PM
Science of Sci-Fi
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 - 1:12PM
Spider-Man Worm Shoots Sticky Webs Out of 'Slime Jets'
Spider-Man's web-slinging powers have been explained in several different ways in his comics and movies, including genetic mutation and mechanical web-shooters. Now, researchers may have another explanation to offer, as they have discovered the mechanism behind a worm that possesses the same superpower.



In order to trap its prey, the velvet worm shoots out sticky webbing made of glue from distinctive anatomical features that the researchers call "slime jets." This "slime" starts out viscous and hardens within seconds, rendering the hapless prey immobile. 

From the paper: "The rapid squirt of a proteinaceous slime jet endows velvet worms (Onychophora) with a unique mechanism for defence from predators and for capturing prey by entangling them in a disordered web that immobilizes their target."

Now, in a new study, researchers have finally discovered the mechanism used by the worm to sling its deadly webs. The glue builds up behind the worm's head, gradually building pressure until it is forced through the narrow jet. As a result, the jet is able to expel the glue at speeds 25 times faster than muscles could induce. And since the jet itself is flexible, it flails about as it shoots the webbing, which causes the slime to effectively cover its prey. 

In addition to explaining Spider-Man's superpowers, lead author Andres Concha of Adolfo Ibanez University claims that the specific jet mechanism could help us build more effective products such as inkjet printers, or potentially even drug delivery systems. Even more excitingly, Victoria Haritos at Monash University told New Scientist that the glue itself could have a wide variety of futuristic applications, such as "gluing" wounds together and crafting weapons that stop people in their tracks.
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