Do you own any garments made of silk? Maybe a blouse or a scarf? Some children might even have silk bed sheets. Even if you don’t have any silk clothing, you have probably touched the smooth and luxurious fabric at some point.
Silk is a natural protein fiber that can be crafted into fabrics. Most silk used for clothing comes from silkworms or moth caterpillars, which produce silk to form cocoons. Many other insects, including spiders, also produce silk.
If you have ever examined silk closely, you would know that it shines. This is because of the triangular structure of silk fibers, which refract light at different angles, creating various colors and the shimmering appearance of silk fabric.
Despite its beauty, one of the most intriguing qualities of silk is its strength. It may sound strange, but silk produced by insects can be stronger than steel.
When you think about it, it starts to make sense. Spiders spin webs, and those webs are made of silk.
What purpose do those webs serve? They capture prey. Spider webs are so strong that they can even trap bats and small birds in mid-air!
Pound for pound, spider silk is stronger than steel. Additionally, it is lightweight and highly flexible. Scientists believe that it could be utilized in the future to create various advanced products, such as replacements for steel cables and lightweight body armor for soldiers.
Currently, the body armor used by soldiers can be quite heavy. It is also not very flexible. If body armor made from spider silk were developed, it would make the job of a soldier much easier and more comfortable.
Unfortunately, producing spider silk is not an easy task. Just ask a spider! While silkworms can be farmed to produce large quantities of silk for fabrics, spiders do not cooperate well with each other and cannot be farmed in the same manner.
However, silkworms may play a crucial role in the future production of flexible, lightweight body armor made from spider silk. Scientists believe they can genetically modify silkworms to produce a hybrid silk that combines the strength of spider silk and the abundance of silkworm silk. If successful, the potential applications for this new super-strong yet flexible silk are limitless!
Give It a Try
Are you interested in learning more about silk and the creatures that produce it? Don’t forget to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:
Spider Webs: How Big Can They Get?
Have you ever wondered about the size of spider webs? You can find some amazing photos of the World’s Biggest, Strongest Spider Webs Found online! It’s hard to believe, but there are spider webs that are large enough to span a river. Can you imagine that? We can’t help but wonder what kind of creatures those webs might catch. What are your thoughts? Which web impresses you the most? And why?
Exploring the Possibilities of Spider Silk
Now that you know how incredibly strong spider silk is and that it can even be used to make body armor, let’s brainstorm some other great ideas for its use. Get together with a friend or family member and let your imagination run wild. What other products do you think could be made from spider silk? How about mountain climbing ropes or fishing nets? Challenge yourself to think of other uses for this super-strong material.
Delve Deeper into Spider Silk’s Strength
If you’re interested in learning more about the strength of spider silk, check out PBS Nova’s video on the subject. After watching the video, test your knowledge by answering the questions at the bottom of the web page.