Tambopata Research Center/Troy Alexander
Scientists have finally found the culprit behind the strange web towers in the image to the right, first discovered last year in the Amazon.
Images of these towers went viral back in August of 2013, and many suspected it was made by a spider — since it was spun out of silk — but no one knew which spider, or what the weird webs were for.
Phil Torres from the Tambopata Research Center, Lary Reeves and Geena Hill from the University of Florida, and wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer from Perunature.com trekked deep into the Peruvian Amazon to study the structures and attempt to identify what was creating them.
They were accompanied by science journalist Nadia Drake, who documented their trek on the Wired Science blog.
The team located about 45 of the web towers and observed and dissected some of them, but their results were inconclusive. The scientists began to think the structures might be just a tower of sperm designed to entice and fertilize female spiders.
On the last day of the trip, though, one of the strange structures hatched, and a baby spider emerged. You can see what the teeny tiny baby mystery spider below:
The scientists saw several adult spiders around, but never witnessed them constructing the towers, so they still don't know how the structures are made. They did observe lots of mites around the sticky web fences and towers like the one below.
At first the scientists had entertained the idea that the silk-producing mites might be responsible for the structures, but once the baby spiders hatched the scientists knew that couldn't be right.
Instead, the scientists believe that the sticky fence surrounding the web towers might be a way to ensnare mites as food for the newly hatched spiders or a defense mechanism to protect the spider egg from ants or other tiny predators.
You can see how the thin strands of web create a perimeter around the center tower containing the egg in the image below.
This is potentially the first documented case of a structure that hatches a single spider egg: usually spiders lay multiple eggs that hatch in groups. The team of scientists are still trying to identify the spider.See more from Drake about solving the mystery web-tower riddle >
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- Peruvian Amazon