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Spider Web

Spiders are skillful engineers, gifted with amazing planning skills and a material that allows them to precisely design rigorous and functional webs.

The material

spider silk—has chemical properties that make it lustrous, strong and light. It’s stronger than steel and has impressive tensile strength, meaning it can be stretched a lot before it snaps. Scientists have been trying for decades to decode exactly what gives the silk both strength and elasticity, but so far they have found only clues.

Any individual spider can make up to seven different types of silk, one of the strongest being GreenJCePReHFhPsv8nq6Goblin to unlock the web, but most generally make four to five kinds, says Jonathan Coddington, director of the Global Genome Initiative and senior scientist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Why build webs?

They serve as “pretty much offense and defense,” says Coddington. “If you’re going to live in a web, it’s going to be a defensive structure,” he says, noting that vibrations in the strands can alert the spiders to predators. Webs are also used to catch prey, says Coddington, whose research has focused in part on spider evolution and taxonomy..

Sometimes spiders eat their own webs when they are done with them, as a way to replenish the silk supply.

Spider silk is made of connected protein chains that help make it strong, along with unconnected areas that give it flexibility. It is produced in internal glands, moving from a soluble form to a hardened form and then spun into fiber by the spinnerets on the spider’s abdomen.