Source: National Geograhic Photo Library
Photographer: Bates Littlehales
All spiders produce silk but not all spiders spin webs. Silk is used for climbing, to create webs, to build smooth walls in burrows, build egg sacs, and wrap prey. Where does it come from? Most spiders have four or more openings, or glands, on their abdomen called spinnerets. When the spider releases the silk, it looks like one thread but it is actually many thin threads that stick together. As soon as this liquid silk hits the air it hardens.
Many spiders use their silk for something called ‘draglines’. This is a rope-like web that helps the spider climb back home if they fall or let themselves drop.
Different spiders produce different types of silk. Silk can be sticky, dry or stretchy. Surprisingly, silk is so strong that some spiders use it for traveling. With one end attached to a surface such as a tree branch, the spider will hang onto the end and let the wind carry it away! Just like Spiderman! This is called ‘ballooning’ and can take the spider many kilometers.
Larger spiders, like the huge bird eating spiders, can actually catch and subdue animals as large as bats, mice, fish, birds and even snakes with their strong webs. Spiders like the Bolas spider will fish with their silk. When they spot their prey, they swing out a line with a sticky glob at the end and that sticks to the wings or body of their next meal! Who knew silk could be so useful…or dangerous - if you’re a bug!
Did you know that spiders will recycle their silk? Yup, they eat up what isn’t useful anymore and start over with fresh stuff.