Spider Silk

If you're like me, when you think of silk, you probably think of the really pretty cloth from china. Well, that stuff is amazing, but it's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about spider silk, and this stuff is amazing in its own special way! Spider silk can be used for a lot of different things (if you're a spider, that is). There's catching your prey, wrapping your prey up for dinner at a later time, parachuting, building shelter, and much, much more. But what really amazes me is how it's made and and how strong it is.


The silk is produced from glands in the spider's abdomen. There are seven types of glands that produce seven types of silk depending on what the spider is up to including killing, wrapping, building, parachuting...well, you get the idea! An individual spider doesn't have all seven glands though: usually just three or four. The silk starts out as a liquid and is pushed and pulled through organs called spinnerets. (Take a look a the picture below.) The liquid molecules are rearranged to become a solid as they leave the spider's body!


Now for the really amazing part! The silk of a spider is only about one-millionth of an inch thick! That means that if you divided an inch into a million parts, one or two of those parts would be the same size as a strand of spider silk! That strand of spider silk is stronger (maybe 5 times stronger) than the same amount of steel! Also, if you could make a bullet proof vest out of spider silk, it would be better and safer than a vest made out of Kevlar! (Kevlar is the stuff they use to make bullet proof vests bullet proof.) It is even speculated that if you had a strand of spider silk the size of a pencil and realllllllllly long, you could lasso a 747 in flight and stop it in its "tracks"!


You know what I think? I think that if Frodo had really gone into Shelob's lair (you know, the spider in the movie The Lord of the Rings) and had really fallen into her web, he wouldn't have been cutting out with his sword! He would have been toast!