Spider Silk

Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating

By Leslie Brunetta and Catherine Craig

Spiders are best known for using silk to build orb webs, the wheel-shaped webs that look as if they were engineered. These webs, and the spider’s ability to produce them using material generated in its own body, have fascinated humans for millennia. They have inspired weavers, civil engineers, and metaphor makers from poets to designers of computer networks. Geometrical, delicate to the point of transparency, yet super strong and super sticky, these webs can stop and hold insects hurtling with tremendous speed through the air. Spiders build orb webs by piecing together a minimum of four types of silk, each having a different form and function. One silk provides strength, another flexibility, and still another a scaffold to aid the spider during construction. Scientists and entrepreneurs have spent millions of dollars trying to copy what spiders accomplish on a budget of dead bugs.

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