SPIDER WEBS are "superbly tuned instruments for vibration transmission", Oxford scientists have concluded.

Two years ago, a research team led by the University of Oxford revealed that, when plucked like a guitar string, spider silk transmits vibrations across a wide range of frequencies, carrying information about prey, mates and even the structural integrity of a web.

Now, a new collaboration between Oxford and Universidad Carlos III de Madrid has confirmed that spider webs are "superbly tuned instruments for vibration transmission" – and that the type of information being sent can be controlled by adjusting factors such as web tension and stiffness.

Researchers from the Oxford Silk Group, along with collaborators in Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science and Universidad Carlos III de Madrid’s Department of Continuum Mechanics and Structural Analysis, studied the links between web vibration and web silk properties.

Their report in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface concluded that spider web vibration is affected by changes in web tension, silk stiffness and web architecture, all of which the spider is able to control.

Dr Beth Mortimer, lead author of the report, which made use of the garden cross spider Araneus diadematus, said: "Spider orb webs are multifunctional structures, where both the transmission of vibrations and the capture of prey are important."

Professor Fritz Vollrath, head of the Oxford Silk Group, added: "It is down to the interaction of the web materials, a range of bespoke web silks, and the spider with its highly tuned behaviour and armoury of sensors that allows this virtually blind animal to operate in a gossamer world of its own making, without vision and only relying on feeling.

"Perhaps the web spider can teach us something new about virtual vision."