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Stumper #37.






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Spider Silk

spider image If you wish to live and thrive
Let the spider run alive. (Nursery rhyme)

Spiders are sometimes mistakenly called insects but they actually belong to another, smaller, group of invertebrate animals that has only two main body parts, a combined head and thorax called the cephalothorax, and an abdomen. On the cephalothorax are the eyes, mouthparts (no antennae) and four pairs of legs. Animals that share these characteristics include ticks, mites, scorpions and spiders. The group is called the Arachnida and within the group, the spiders are the Araneae.

Spiders have been around for a long time and several fossils have been found including one determined to be about 380 million years old. They are found all over the world and are a popular subject for folklore where they are said to be bringers of good luck, to forecast the weather, predict events, and even to have medicinal uses. In real life they are both loved and feared and have very real uses in agriculture and home gardens around the world. Spiders are carnivorous, they eat insects, and so are increasingly valued as an alternative to chemical pesticides on certain crops. The Chinese use them to control leafhoppers, planthoppers, caterpillars and moths in rice paddies. In Britain they help to protect fields of winter wheat from aphids. In your garden, if there is enough ground cover for their comfort, spiders will happily help reduce the numbers of annoying insects.

You may be surprised that the familiar nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet and the spider that sat down beside her and frightened her away, is almost certainly referring to a real little girl, Patience Muffet, whose father, Dr. Thomas Muffet (1553-1604), was a physician and a naturalist who studied spiders and silkworms.

A spider’s silk produced from spinnerets on its abdomen is extremely strong, is much finer than silkworm silk, and will stretch about 30-percent longer than its original length without breaking. Spiders use their silk for wrapping prey, and for constructing webs, egg sacs, and shelters in which to retreat.

The Stumper Questions:
True or false?
  1. People have used spider webs to dress wounds.
  2. Spider silk has been used to make 'silk' thread and fabric for clothing.
  3. Spider silk is stronger, weight for weight, than steel or Kevlar.
  4. Spider silk is being used to make hollow optical fibers for nanoscale optical circuits.

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