Thursday, December 1, 2011

Spider at Work -- With Silk

The difference between utility and utility plus beauty is the difference between telephone wires and the spider web.
-- Edwin Way Teale

Today the girls read Chapter 25, "Spiders," from The Storybook of Science, by Jean-Henri Fabre.* Uncle Paul's description of the spider spinning its web is facinating, but seeing such a work in action makes an unforgettable impression. I searched on YouTube for a video that clearly showed a spider's spinnerets in action, and this one is really nice. A few seconds into the video, the camera zooms in for a close-up view.

The Smithosonian National Museum of Natural History has an excellent article on spiders here. Although technically dense, I found especially intriguing the three paragraphs related to spider silk. Did you know that a spider can produce different types of silk to use in different ways, such as one for spinning webs, another for cocooning eggs, and yet another for wrapping captured prey? Silly me; I thought it was all the same!

Silk is also extremely tough. This article on Wikipedia states, "A frequent mistake made in the mainstream media is to confuse strength and toughness when comparing silk to other materials. As shown below in detail, weight for weight, silk is stronger than steel, but not as strong as Kevlar. Silk is, however, tougher than both [toughness being the ability to absorb energy before breaking]." The article goes on to delineate many other of silk's impressive qualities. I had no idea it is so remarkable.

At our Maine cabin, there's always a spider or two that makes a web in the corner of our picture window (outside!) or in the corner where the exterior wall and roof overhang meet on the deck. I let them be. I like watching them in action when I can, although they tend to be secretive. To me, their webs are things of beauty.

* The Storybook of Science is a new addition for science in AO Year 4, but I'd heard pleasing things about it in the past and decided we'd read it even though we're in Year 5.

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