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Blue Sky Science: How is spider silk made?

Marie Thompson

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How is spider silk made?

Spiders have silk-producing glands in their bodies, specifically in their abdomen. In these glands they have the chemical components already put together to produce silk, but it’s in a liquid form.

When a spider wants to produce a strand of solid silk, they have to pull this strand of silk out of their bodies.

Some spiders have special combs on their legs to help pull out the silk. In other cases, they might attach it to a substrate or surface and start walking to pull it out.

If you’ve ever noticed a spider dangling from a ceiling, they use the silk as kind of safety line—if they were to fall off of a surface, the silk is already there to catch them.

All spiders have silk-producing glands, but there are about six or seven different types of silk and different glands responsible for each one. Not all spiders have all these different types of glands, but in general, all spiders produce silk.

Spider silk is a very thin, narrow fiber. It’s extremely strong and also very elastic.

It’s very resilient and it can stretch in the wind or due to mechanical stresses. When engineers look at that, they see an ideal fiber that you could potential weave together to make extremely strong fabrics that are also elastic and lightweight.

About Blue Sky Science

Blue Sky Science is a collaboration of the Wisconsin State Journal and the Morgridge Institute for Research. The questions are primarily posed by visitors attending Discovery Building events.

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