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, 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.