At many places, the Quran describes phenomena, events and situations through parables, metaphors and symbolic allusions in order to illustrate certain points.One of the chapters of the Quran is called The Spider (العنكبوت
Al-‘Ankabūt). The Quran says:
مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ كَمَثَلِ الْعَنْكَبُوتِ اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا ۖ وَإِنَّ أَوْهَنَ الْبُيُوتِ لَبَيْتُ الْعَنْكَبُوتِ ۖ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
“The likeness of those who choose protectors other than Allah is as the likeness of the spider, who builds (to itself) a house; but truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider’s house – if they but knew” (29:41).
Spiders or arthropods are found all over the world, except in Antarctica. Over 45,700 types of spiders have been recorded by taxonomists. They have eight legs and chelicerae with fangs that can inject venom. They have a lifespan of about two years. A spider runs up to 1.6 feet per second. Spiders have colour vision and the ability to blend into their surroundings.
Spiders have an amazing ability to crawl in different kinds of spaces and surfaces, including walls, glass and even ceilings. Spiders have thousands of tiny, flexible hairs, which provide additional stickiness and create multiple contact points between them and the surface. These hairs also increase their ability to hang on.
Some insects and animals, like barnacles, have permanent attachment systems, like glue, which help them permanently attach themselves to rocks or the hulls of ships. These systems are undoubtedly much stronger, but they are not reusable and easily detachable. Spiders, on the other hand, have temporary attachment systems, which can be used multiple times and are strong enough to hold them. Moreover, the contact can be loosened very quickly and effortlessly, according to Jonas Wolff, a biologist at the University of Kiel, Germany, who has spent several years studying spider stickiness.
Spiders create, dismantle and recreate silken threads to trap prey. About half of spider species spin webs, but all of them produce a strong, sticky substance. Spider silk is thinner than human hair. Some spider species are social which build communal webs that may house as many as 50,000 individuals.
In the verse quoted at the beginning of this essay, the Quran mentions “the spider’s home.” The word home presupposes a structure and pattern and functions (including food, security, procreation and care of the young). The spider’s web has a complex structure and its creation or building has a systematic pattern. Biologists speak of “web architecture.” The cobweb is a structure created by a spider out of proteinaceous spider silk extruded from its spinnerets.
The cobweb has at least four distinctive functions. It serves as a source of food for the spider. Most spiders build webs specifically to intercept and catch ants, flies, moths and insects to eat. Spiders often attach highly visible silk bands, called decorations or stabilimentar, to their webs. Spiders use a variety of strategy to trap prey. Some species use webbing to ensnare their prey. Others lay in wait for their prey. The web serves as a secure home for the spider.
A solder ant is entangled in a spider’s web
Third, male spiders display a complex courtship and mating behaviour towards females, which are much larger than males. Females weave silk egg-cases, each of which may contain hundreds of eggs. Fourth, females carry their young around and share food with them.
Spiders use different silks to form an orb web. The rigid silk that comprises the frame is different from the silk expanding in a radial pattern outward from the center of the web.
In ancient Greece and Rome, cobwebs were used on wounds and cuts, which helped healing and reduce bleeding. Spider webs are rich in vitamin K, which can be effective in clotting blood. Spider webs have also been used as gauze pads, which can cover the wound and help heal the injury faster. It also minimizes the chances of infection. Some scientists are engaged in research focused on the use of spider venom in medicine and as non-polluting pesticides.
Many chemists, material scientists and engineers study spiders and their webs and try to artificially create silken threads spun by spiders, which can be used in sportswear. Sportswear companies such as Adidas, The North Face and Patagonia are looking for ways to produce shoes using synthetic spider silk.