Silky Secrets

My spidey senses are… silky?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

By weight, spider silk is stronger than steel! However, perfectly reproducing this versatile material has proven difficult. How do spiders successfully spin silk?

Lucas Parent at Northwestern University and David Onofrei at San Diego State did some spider sleuthing. They looked inside the abdomens of black widows known for their especially strong silk.

With magnetic imaging, they first scanned the silk sacs in the spiders’ tummies. Then, a powerful microscope photographed the itsy-bitsy spider silk particles INSIDE the sacs.

What did they see? The silk isn’t stored like thread wrapped on a spool! Instead, sacs store small, lightly packed, round bundles of silk material in flakey shapes. When spiders spin silk, these bundles squish into a thread-like structure.

The researchers think this storage method contributes to the spider silky spinning success. This discovery could usher in a new and improved era of silk inspired materials!

So move over Peter Parker! For a new spin on super-spider-success, think — Black Widow!