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Constraints on the adhesion of viscous threads spun by orb-weaving spiders: the tensile strength of glycoprotein glue exceeds its adhesion
In this study we tested the hypothesis that a viscous thread releases its hold on a surface because its glycoprotein glue pulls from the surface and not because its elongating droplets break near their attachment to the surface. We compared the values obtained when three species' viscous threads adhered to four smooth surfaces, which differed in their total surface energy and in the proportions of their dispersion and polar energy components. Although water comprised 43-70% of the volume of these viscous droplets, only the dispersion surface energies of test materials and not their polar surface energies impacted thread adhesion. These results support the droplet pull-off hypothesis and are consistent with a previous finding that capillary force contributes little to thread adhesion. Just as a viscous thread's stickiness is constrained by the tensile strength of its supporting axial fibers, our findings suggest that glycoprotein adhesion is constrained by glycoprotein tensile strength.