With AI, researchers listen to the music of a spider’s web

It’s an ominous, eerie, reverberant tune, enough to send a tingle up your spine.

This is what a spider web looks like.

From communication to construction, cobwebs can offer an orchestra of information, says Markus Buehler, an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who uses artificial intelligence to study them.

“Spiders use vibrations as a way to communicate with the environment, with other spiders,” he said. “We recorded these vibrations from the spiders and used artificial intelligence to learn these vibrational patterns and associate them with certain actions, essentially learning the language of the spider.”

Buehler and his team of researchers created 3D models of spider webs when the arachnids were doing different things – like building, repairing, hunting and feeding. They then listened to the patterns in the spiders’ signals and recreated the sounds using computers and mathematical algorithms.

“Spiders are a whole different animal,” Buehler said. “What they see or feel is not actually audible or visible to the human eye or the human ear. And so by transposing it, we start to experience it.”

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Buehler hopes his team’s work could allow humans to understand a spider’s language and one day communicate with them.

“The melodies are really the kind of relationships that the spider would experience too. And so we can start to feel a bit like a spider that way,” Buehler said.

There are more than 47,000 species of spiders and all weave silken webs for lodging and catching food. Scientists say the silk of a spider’s web is five times stronger than steel.

The living structure of a spider’s web could lead to innovations in construction, maintenance and repair, Buehler said.

“We can imagine creating a synthetic system that mimics what the spider does by sensing the web, repairing the web,” he said.

(Reporting by Angela Moore; Editing by Karishma Singh for Reuters)

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James G. Williams