Golden orb spider in a web
‘Nanostrands’ make spider silk five times stronger than steel. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

The real reason spider silk is so incredibly strong

For arachnophobes like me, walking into a spiderweb is one of life’s most terrifying experiences. 

But when you stop screaming and extricate yourself without being savaged by the web’s owner, consider for a moment the incredible strength of those silken strands.

According to ACS Macro Letters if human-size, the woven silk of some spiders would be tough enough to snag a jetliner. 

Apparently, the strength comes from the spider’s ability to ‘weave’ thousands of small, sticky strands into one thread.

1000 times thinner

To find out how it is that some spider silk is five times stronger than steel, scientists analysed the silk that venomous brown recluse spiders use to create their ground webs and hold their eggs. 

They found that each strand – which is 1000 times thinner than a human hair – is actually made up of thousands of nanostrands, only 20 millionths of a millimetre in diameter. 

Nanostrands

The idea that nanofibers make up spider silk has been proposed before, but until now, there was no evidence to suggest nanostrands comprised the entire makeup of a silk fibre, according to the publication.

While research of this sort might lead to surgical or engineering applications, it won’t happen anytime soon. Synthetic spider silk has been notoriously difficult to recreate.

Natural Images 2018

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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