How Do Spiders Create Silk?

Spiders are capable of producing silk, and scientists are studying how it is produced. It is a stretchy and tough fiber. The resulting web is used for defense and offense. Some species use it to wrap their prey.

In order for spiders to create silk, they have a complex mechanism. A number of microscopic tubes known as spinnerets on their abdomen release a liquid gel. This fluid is then funneled down an ever-tinier duct. Using valves that look like motors, the liquid gel is pulled out.

The silk thread that emerges is called a spidroin. It is made up of large proteins created in an ampulate gland.

A similar structure is produced by the aggregate gland. Aggregate is a sticky material that clings to aerial prey.

These glands secrete various types of fibers and glue. Spiders may also use the material as a lining for nests.

Silk can be used for many purposes, including wrapping the prey, as scaffolding for the web, and as a slingshot. While it is not as hard as steel, spiders have been using spider silk to catch insects for thousands of years.

Spiders can produce several different types of silk. The Smithsonian reports that the number of silk glands varies by spider species.

Some spiders use their silk to build elaborate webs. Others attach it to the surface and wait for it to snag. Other species produce fine strands that can be spun into a sail-like shape.