UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
Home
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Webcasts
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
Sorry about so many questions (answer all them at once, if you want), but I am just naturally curious. Where does a spider get its silk? Because when I read "James and the giant peach," the spider said she was "running out of silk"
PS-I love your web site!!!
Question Date: 2007-05-04
Answer 1:

How great that Roald Dahl's storytelling got you wondering about the world of biology Spider silk is a fascinating topic. The fibers made by spiders are as strong as steel, and also incredibly flexible, making the silk a material that humans would like to learn to make themselves! Scientists are still studying and learning how spiders make their silk, but some facts are known: The fibers in spider silk are made up of mostly proteins. The proteins used to made the silk are long and flexible and have a repetitive pattern. This helps the proteins to bind together to make strong stretchy fibers. Spiders have compartments in their abdomens, called silk glands, where the fiber components are kept. A spider will create fibers to do specific tasks, such as making webs, capturing prey or covering egg sacs. There are even specialized glands reserved for the various types of silk to be made.

The proteins will move from the main gland storage area, start binding to each other to form fibers, and move through a "spinning duct" or an arrower tube that helps remove water from and strengthen the silk.As the fibers continue on their way out of the spider, they may be coated with some protective lipids, or oils. Then at the end of the gland, at the "valve", the fibers undergo last-minute repairs before being secreted through the spinneret, or the part of the silk glands we can see on the backside of the spider.Exposure to air when the fibers are extruded out of the spider is a final strengthening step. The silk also contains chemicals that help it to stay moist, and others to protect it from bacterial and fungus growth.

It is probable that a spider can only make silk when it has enough protein building blocks available in the glands. Spiders get the protein components from their diet, and sometimes when their webs get old, they will eat the threads to recycle the materials! So, to get to your question, yes, it seems like Miss Spider could have been "running out of silk" if she hadn't been able to replenish her stores!


Answer 2:

Spiders make their own silk. Spiders take the protein from the insects that they eat, break them down, and build them up into web protiens.When they need silk, special glands shoot it out of microscopic tubes.It comes out in liquid form and it hardens almost immediately.It's sort of like that string you shoot out of a can. Not all spiders make webs, but they use silk for many things, from lining nests to shooting it at prey. Silk is stronger than steel, so people are trying to copy it to make it artificially.

Your body makes things out of protein too, like fingernails and hair.Can you imagine making a fingernail as fast as a spider makes silk?



Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2017 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use