Amazon Web Spires a Mystery

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Sir Walter Scott’s quote from his poem, “Marmion,” that goes “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive,” applies to humans all too well. But, humans aren’t behind the peculiar-looking web structure recently discovered in the Peruvian Amazon rain forest. What is behind the webbed spire surrounded by a web fence is, so far,  a mystery to everyone, including scientists.

The miniature webbed spire is approximately 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) wide. The person who first spotted one of the webbed spires is grad student Troy Alexander of Georgia Tech University. He saw one on a tarp’s underside. Troy was in Peru at the time he spotted it, close to the Tambopata Research Center.

What could the webbed spire structure and web picket fence be?

Alexander thought he might be seeing some sort of “aborted moth cocoon,” according to what he wrote on the social media site, Reddit. However, if that’s what it was, a person would only expect to see one of them, in an isolated case. Alexander discovered many more, all looking identical.

The grad student utilized Reddit again, and he posted his photos there, in the hopes that some other scientist would have an answer as to what the webbed structures were, what created them, and for what purpose. He also asked people who lived near the Tambopata Research Center if they knew what the structures were, but no one knew for sure.

On Reddit, Alexander wrote his guess about the webbed structures:

…there are eggs in the base of the maypole in the middle of the horse corral, though it might be something pupating.”

An arachnologist, Chris Buddle, of McGill University, couldn’t think of any species of spider that might have built the structures. He said he had “no clue” what made them, adding that it’s all “a seriously fascinating mystery.”

According to LiveScience, a similar view was expressed by American Museum of Natural History in New York’s curator emeritus of spiders, Norman Platnick, who declared that he had “no idea” what created the webbed structures.

Guesses as to what the webbed spire and fence are include that they might be some sort of moth cocoons, a defense system set up to protect the eggs of a species of spider, or perhaps even the body of some type of fruiting fungus.

What drew Alexander to the Peruvian Amazon?

During a vacation to the Peruvian Amazon, the grad student enjoyed the time he spent there so much that he decided he’d like to be a research assistant there. He requested of his adviser a leave of absence, and it was granted to him, Troy related to the art blog, Colossal. That’s when he took an airplane back to the Peruvian Amazon and began researching parrot biology at the Tambopata Macaw Project.

Who knows what kind of creature made the webbed spires and webbed fences that surrounds them? Are they a type of arachnid Stonehenge, cocoons, protection for eggs, or something entirely different?

There are so many different species in the world’s rain forests, many yet to be discovered. Whatever the structures might turn out to be, they have certainly piqued the curiosity of the world’s scientific community.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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