What is spider's silk?

Author: Lauri McDonald, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Spiders create silk for webs inside silk glands in their abdomen. Both male and female spiders can do this. There are at least seven different glands that produce different kinds of silk: Some of the silk is sticky; some is not. Some silk is rigid while some is flexible and stretchy. These silks are secreted from organs called spinnerets, located at the tip of the abdomen. The spider can move these spinneretes around, up and down, to attach and orient the silk as it comes out. Just look at a spider web to see how this control leads to very complicated designs.

Ever wonder why web designs are so different? It's because each design is supposed to do one, specific job extremely well. Some webs catch bugs, some protect the spider from being eaten by birds and lizards(yum)! Some webs just hold eggs and newly hatched baby spiders. One kind of spider builds a tunnel and trap door out of silk to hide in and ambush prey.

Many spiders travel using their silk. They send out a single, long strand that is attached only to themselves. The wind picks it up, and lifts the spider up into the air to fly to another part of the area where there aren't so many other spiders all trying to catch and eat the same bugs.

This silk is actually a class of proteins called beta-keratins.

More questions and activities:
Why doesn't a spider get stuck to its own web?
Simulate your own project to show why spiders don't get stuck.

Web page created by Lauri McCormick McDonald July 14, 2000

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