Can Spider-Man really do whatever a spider can? And what can spiders do, actually? Spider-Man might be the world’s most popular superhero, but spiders rarely get the same respect. With Spider-Man: Far From Home now in theaters, discover how the friendly neighborhood superhero measures up to his namesake.
Web-shooters and web-slinging
After a fateful bite from a radioactive spider, Peter Parker develops various superpowers, but these don’t include the ability to shoot webs. Instead, he crafts a wrist-mounted device to do so. That’s a relief, because if he followed the anatomy of a real spider, Spidey would produce silk from openings near his behind.
However, according to Isa Betancourt, curatorial assistant in entomology at the Academy of Natural Sciences, there is only one spider that uses webs just like Spider-Man.
Spitting spiders, Scytodidae, fire a sticky “spit” from their fangs, hitting their prey within a fraction of a second, she explained. Like Spidey’s web blasts, this spit has silk that glues the target in place.
Because spitting spiders are often found indoors, and live in New York City, it’s easy to imagine Peter Parker catching sight of the little hunter while pondering how to build upon his newfound powers.
Several of Spider-Man’s other web-based combat techniques also borrow from real spiders. The superhero often throws silk nets to entangle his foes — much like the aptly named netcasting spiders, Deinopidae. These spiders hang suspended on a single strand of silk, and hold a stretchy web between their front legs, waiting for unsuspecting prey.
Spider-Man also uses his webs to yank weapons out of criminals’ hands and to grab projectiles and falling objects. Similarly, bolas spiders, Mastophora, hunt moths by whipping around a long strand of silk with a glob of sticky glue, and catching the bugs out of the air.
Swinging, leaping, and soaring
In and out of combat, Spider-Man also uses his powers to travel around in style. He shares his ability to walk on almost any surface with many spiders, which do so by using a combination of toe claws, and tufts of tiny hairs called scopula. With these on their feet, even some tarantulas, the heaviest spiders, can climb up vertical glass.
And some jumping spiders, Salticidae, can cling to walls while holding up to 170 times their own weight. Spider-Man is likely similarly sticky, considering how he often hoists much heavier villains while climbing.
Few spiders are as acrobatic as Spider-Man, but jumping spiders — which can travel up to 40 times their own body length in a single leap — might be able to match Spidey’s talents.
Jumping spiders also have the best example of something like Spidey’s web swinging. Just before they take off, jumping spiders anchor themselves with a silk dragline — once in the air, they can pull on this webbing to control their angle and speed. But using a second web strand to keep swinging remains one of Spidey’s unique innovations.
Spider-Man often uses strands of webbing as a slingshot, launching himself at full speed toward a target. He may have learned this trick from triangle-weaver spiders, Hyptiotes cavanus, which can rocket forward incredibly quickly — accelerating at up to 773 meters a second squared. Trained fighter pilots in special gear can handle an acceleration of about 88 meters a second squared before passing out. It is safe to assume that Spider-Man moves much more slowly than the triangle weavers.
In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spidey shows off a new ability: Thanks to an upgraded suit, he can now gracefully glide through the air. However, Selenops spiders, sometimes called “flatties” due to their compressed shape, pull off similar maneuvers without any extra equipment.
When airborne, the spiders steer with their first pair of legs, and catch the air with the three other pairs —with precise coordination, they can land safely on a nearby trunk.
However, the skies really belong to the spiders — unlike Spider-Man, real spiders can fly. By extending a long line of silk into the sky, many spiders harness a combination of the wind and the Earth’s electromagnetic field to “balloon,” sometimes traveling hundreds of miles before landing. But when Peter Parker heads to Europe in Spider-Man: Far From Home, he still has to take a boring plane like the rest of us.
Spider-Man’s ability to sense oncoming dangers — his Spidey sense — and react with lightning fast reflexes is crucial to his heroics. And this may be one of his most spider-like traits.
Spiders have evolved several ways to keep themselves safe. For example, jumping spiders have eyes on the back of their heads. But Spider-Man has only two eyes, so his Spidey Sense is likely based on spiders’ super-powered hairs.
“[Spiders] basically have ears all over their bodies, because [they are covered in hairs],” Betancourt said. These hairs are incredibly sensitive to moving air and other vibrations. Likewise, Spider-Man’s hair reacts when he’s picked up on a threat.
“Maybe that also means that a hairier Spider-Man is a more accurate Spider-Man?,” Betacourt said. The superhero might want to avoid excessive shaving, just in case.
Feats of strength
Both Spider-Man and real spiders are much stronger than they might appear. Spider-Man fights off much larger foes, such as Kingpin, Lizard, and Rhino, while spiders regularly make the news when photos of their huge prey go viral.
And while he often gets battered in these fights, part of Spider-Man’s charm is that he is able to bounce back from defeat. Similarly, spiders can recover from traumatic injuries, such as losing one or more legs. As long as the spider survives long enough to shed its skin, it will grow back fully functional replacements.
As a character strongly motivated by responsibility to family and friends, Spider-Man has a personality that might seem at odds with spiders, which are well-known as loners. But several species live and work together in communal webs to take down foes they would never best alone.
And, just like Spider-Man, some spiders are ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep their loved ones safe. Mothers of the black lace-weaver, Amaurobius ferox, provide a critical first meal by feeding themselves to their offspring.
With 57 years of comics, cartoons, video games, and movies, there have been more than 100 different interpretations of Spider-Man. They share a similar story, but each “Spider-Person” has a signature spin.
Real spiders have the Spider-People outnumbered. The first arachnid with eight legs, two fangs, and spinnerets showed up about 300 million years ago. Today, scientists know of more than 48,000 species. In Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 200 different spider species.
Among the untapped inspiration for future feature films: Pelican spiders can snap their jaws closed with some of the fastest movements made by any animal — the perfect basis for a stronger punch. The camouflaged web tunnels of purse-web spiders, Atypidae, might make excellent cover for an ambush. Studying Portia jumping spiders, masters of deception, could help with tricking villains. And because Spidey has never been much for swimming, why not build a suit to run across the water’s surface like a fishing spider?
“If Spider-Man had all the spider powers combined, he’d be undefeatable," Betancourt said.