How Do Spiders Make Silk?

Have you ever walked into a spider web? It can be hard to get all of that spider silk off of your hair, skin and clothes. That’s because it is very tough and durable.

Photo by Chad Merda

But how do spiders make their silk? They actually have structures on their bodies specifically for making it.

The silk starts as a liquid that spiders store in glands inside their bodies. It then turns to a solid, which the spiders spin into silk. Spiders use structures called spinnerets on the outside of their abdomens to produce the silk, which is also called gossamer.

The spinnerets have spigots that connect to the silk glands. These spigots feed the silk into the spinnerets. Most spiders have six spinnerets and four to six glands for producing silk, but some kinds of spiders have more or less.

All spiders can produce silk, but not all spider silk is the same. Spiders can make as many as seven different types of silk, but most spiders only make four or five different kinds. Some silk is sticky, but other kinds are not sticky at all.

Making webs is the most well-known use of spider silk, but it's not the only one. Some spiders build nests and cocoons from their silk, and some use silk strands to wrap up their prey. Silk strands can also be used as an anchor, trailing behind a spider as it moves about. Some spiders even eat their webs and use it to make new silk.

Spider silk is stronger than any man-made or natural fiber on Earth. It’s so strong and durable that scientists have been studying it for years to figure out if they can replicate it. So far scientists have learned a lot about the silk and why it is so strong, but they haven’t been able to make a man-made version that is as good as spider silk.