What is spider silk?« Back to Questions List

You may have seen the irregular tangled webs commonly known as cobwebs in ignored corners of a house, much less visited lofts and basements. These webs become more visible by gathering dust. These webs are formed by the air-breathing arthropods called spiders. Not all spiders build webs. There are many different species of spiders which spin different kinds of webs. While the common house spiders weave cobwebs, some species spin silken webs too. 

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Spider silk is in fact the strongest fiber known even while compared with steel of same diameter. The giant webs of South Pacific spider are strong enough to be used as fishing nets. Spider’s silk is made up of amino acids like glycine and alanine. Though silkworms produce silk, a spider’s spinning capabilities are no match to them. They secrete silk proteins dissolved in water based solution with the help of special silk glands. There could be multiple silk glands that secrete different silk varieties in different amounts. The solution is injected via long ducts connecting to the spider’s spinning organ called spinneret. The protein molecules are pulled out of the ducts by what are called spigots on the spinneret.  While in contact with air, the molecules stretch out and link together to form long strands. These strands are wound by spinnerets to form tough silk.


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 In spite of the fact that the spiders silk is unbelievably strong, humans have not yet found a way to tap the fiber. The most common use of silk is like that of a rope to a climber. On any danger encountered on the way, the spider takes the safe path back to origin. The web also helps in gathering food for spiders by wrapping up any insect that approaches the web though not all spiders catch their prey spinning a web.


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