The classic Spider-Man song suggests that the friendly neighborhood webslinger “does whatever a spider can.” And in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Peter Parker (Tom Holland) enjoys super strength, huge jumping abilities, the ability to climb almost any surface, and web shooters that can make super-sticky spider-webs (although the last ones he built using his scientist intellect).
But while all those powers make for a pretty great Spider-Man, it raises the question of whether all those spider-abilities are really spider-accurate. Spider-Man can do the thing a spider can, but can a spider do all the things a Spider-Man can?
The answer is, more or less: yeah, pretty much. Spiders enjoy a lot of interesting abilities, although many are spread among various different species of arachnids.
Spiders can’t really punch out villains and criminals the way Spider-Man can, but their legs are powerful. As National Geographic notes, some jumping spiders can make jumps 50 times the lengths of their bodies. Spider-Man pulls much the same trick, with super agility, high-speed movements and the ability to make big jumps. There’s not quite a direct comparison to a spider when Spider-Man picks up large objects, but at least when it comes to jumping, Spider-Man does what a spider can.
The most recognizable spider trait that Peter Parker enjoys is climbing on just about any surface, including ceilings. Spiders can do the same (although they weigh much less than a 15-year-old boy), thanks to tiny hairs all over their legs called setae. The setae then branch into even smaller hairs called setules.
The setae and setules work by exchanging electrons with surfaces, creating enough attraction across the surface area that the spider sticks to the surface. National Geographic notes that the sticky climbing ability of jumping spiders has been calculated at 170 times their body weight — so when Spider-Man climbs walls and catches and holds people or objects without falling, that’s actually fairly scientifically accurate.
In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Peter Parker uses wrist-mounted web shooter contraptions to blast the strands of sticky webbing he uses to swing around cities and immobilize bad guys. He brews up the fluid that powers the shooters in chemistry class, which turns to sticky strands once it hits the air. His suit, provided by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), offers a huge number of options for how his web is deployed by the shooters, but the most common ones are the single strands he uses to swing and the stick blasts that bind objects and people to surfaces like walls.
Spiders operate a little differently, but the effect is the same. They have organs on their abdomens called spinnerettes, with glands that produce webs in strands. Most people are likely familiar with “orb weavers,” the spiders that create the round webs often seen hanging from structures. Those webs include both sticky strands that can capture insects, and non-sticky superstructure strands that keep webs in place. Some spiders produce as many as seven different kinds of silk, according to National Geographic, each used for a different purpose.
Although it’s not really a part of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Spider-Man traditionally enjoys a “spider sense” that allows him to detect danger with just enough time to avoid it. The spider sense is often kind of vague: At the last second, Spider-Man realizes that he’s about to get hit with something huge, or he detects someone behind him, and is able to leap clear rather than get pummeled. But the ins and outs aren’t really explained.
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In spiders, the “spider sense” that allows them to (mostly) avoid getting squashed is a combination of elements. First, their eight eyes allow them to see a lot of things coming. They also have a lot of tiny hairs covering their bodies that allow them to detect vibrations, according to the National Wildlife Federation’s blog post on Spider-Man’s spider abilities. Spiders can feel vibrations coming through the surfaces on which they find themselves with those hairs, and some also have hairs that can detect vibrations in the air — giving them an early warning system for what’s coming their way (like a rolled up newspaper).