While volunteering in the Peruvian Amazon, graduate student Troy Alexander discovered a strange web formation underneath a tarp.
Circle and spires
The formation, about 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) across, had a strange spire in the middle encircled by picket-fence like posts.
Experts guessed it could have been a slime mold, a structure made by moths, or a defense made by spiders, but everyone was stumped.
Return to the scene
So several months later, a team of researchers returned to the site to study the structures. After putting them in a glass, they found baby spiders hatched from the strange structures.
The mystery was solved: The web towers were used for spider eggs, from which tiny, less than 1 mm spiderlings emerged.
But it's still not clear what species of spider made the webs or what the picket-fence circle is for.
One possibility is that the fence is a defense against ant invaders eating or damaging the eggs, or the spikes lure mites as tasty snacks for the hatchlings.
Tia Ghose, Senior Writer
Tia has interned at Science News, Wired.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.