Spider webs are one of nature’s most interesting productions. Not all arachnid species spin webs, or even produce silk, as arachnids constitute a class of arthropods that include spiders, mites, ticks and scorpions. With the exception of huntsman spiders, all spider species produce silk, but not all spiders use their silk to weave webs for catching prey. The most picturesque spider webs are constructed by a group of spiders known as orb-weavers. Theses spiders can produce seven different types of silk. Some types of spider silk feel sticky and elastic while others are strong and seemingly unbreakable.
It is well known that humans have learned to exploit the silk-producing capabilities of spiders, but it is not commonly known that spider silk has been used for a variety of different purposes over the course of history. For example, spider silk has been used as fishing line, the strings on musical instruments and as a material for dressing wounds. Humans have been collecting spider silk for centuries in many different parts of the world. Even modern researchers are now exploring spider silk for its usefulness as a form of kevlar, and researchers have long been working to develop a synthetic form of spider silk.
The first documented attempt to weave spider silk occurred in 1709 by François Xavier Bon of France. Bon was hoping to establish a spider silk industry to compete with the silkworm textile industry. Bon was not able to raise enough spiders to produce the amount of silk needed for industrial purposes, but 50 years later, Abbé Ramon de Termeyer, discovered that silk could be accessed directly within the body of a spider. This allowed more silk to be secured directly from a spider’s body as opposed to waiting for silk to be produced through a spider’s spinnerets. Termeyer then invented a machine that he believed would mechanically spin the extracted silk into textile products, but much like his predecessor, Termeyer failed to produce industrial-sized quantities of silken fabric. During the 18th century, ambitious industrialists only used European garden spiders as a source of silk, but increasing exploration in the New World exposed Europeans to a variety of new web-spinning spider species. During this time, spider webs were collected and used as sowing string, which was a practice that Europeans picked up from the native Americans.
Do you believe that experts will eventually develop a method of producing laboratory spider silk that is entirely synthetic?