The Spider and Reckless Self-Abandon-Part 2

28 01 2015

I know it’s midwinter, but I’m still thinking about that spider and her web. I wondered if hanging by a single microscopic fiber still was as precarious and frankly, foolish as it sounded.  Then I read more about her and her surprising feats.

That thread she’s anchored to? It has some pretty amazing qualities: Elasticity. Steel can be stretched 8% and nylon 20%. Spider silk can be stretched 140%. (That somewhat explains my ability to feel the tension of it as I walked into the fiber stretched across my path.) . Although the thread is about 3% as thick as a human hair, it can stop a bee flying at full speed. Tensile strength—the greatest stress a material will tolerate before failure. Silk is stronger than most natural materials and about half as strong as steel. Unlike other materials, including steel, it remains flexible in extreme cold. Strength per weight. Spider silk is considered to be 10 times stronger than Kevlar—the material used to make bullet-proof vests! It is so light that one pound of fiber would stretch around the equator. It so thin the human eye cannot see it. (We can see an object with a diameter of 25 mm. at a distance of 10 cm.). The only way we can see it is when sunlight reflects off of it. Hmmm…

The silk comes out of 4-6 organs in the spider’s body called spinnerets. Each of these “spigots” is a few thousandths of a millimeter thick. These several strands are twisted together, producing a thread 1/30 of the diameter of a human hair—and 5 times stronger than piano wire! Moreover, spiders have 7 different glands that produce silk, which is made up of proteins, for different purposes. Some produce sticky material for the thread; some produce walking thread; attaching thread; thread for encapsulating prey; thread for cocoons.

As you might imagine, scientists have studied the spider’s web, yearning to harvest or re-create its fiber’s capabilities for human use—better bullet-proof vests; lightweight support cables for bridges and other construction; surgical procedures, and many other possibilities. Alas, it is proving difficult.

Yet–there is a fascinating piece of textile that went on exhibit in 2009 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was made from the silk of more than a million spiders, and is the only one of its kind in existence in the world! The process as described in an article on the science website WIRED is staggering. Seventy people in Madagascar collected golden orb spiders for 4 years, while dozens of “spider wranglers” extracted about 80 feet of silk from each spider. It was then spun together into thicker threads and woven into a lovely golden textile piece.

Another remarkable part of the history of the study of spider silk is that the means of “milking” the spiders was first developed by Father Combue` and his associate, M. Nogue, in the late 1890’s. They had deduced how to safely extract the silk from the wild spiders and even return them to their habitat to “donate” more silk several weeks later. From the silk they had produced “a complete set of bed hangings”* which were exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1898. Though the hangings have since been lost, their work nevertheless has continued to facilitate study and fascinate scholars a century later!

I now take back one thing I said about the spider in my previous article. She is not reckless at all! She may set out with TOTAL self-abandon, but not RECKLESS self-abandon. She has every reason to be secure in her daily “leap of faith.” I still desire to be like that spider, now more than ever. Not only does she have a sure anchor upon which she “hangs” (sorry for the pun) her entire life. The fiber she depends upon to hold her has qualities endowed by Nature which are mysteriously superior to human-made materials and so far unable to be reproduced in spite of a century of human inquiry and research. I want to be able to depend upon a Lifeline superior and more dependable than what we can explain or re-create.

I think the Creator of this marvelous creature and her amazing fiber must pretty superior and dependable. I wonder if there’s a Lifeline there for me.                                                                                                E-votions 1-28-2015

*I used several sources from the Internet to compile the previous facts about spiders and their webs. The website listed below details the story of the history and production of the textile on display in New York.                                        http://www.wired.com/2009/09/spider-silk/

Advertisements