Spinning Spider Silk into Gold

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What do you do if you are textile artists in Madagascar and want to promote traditional Malagasy weaving techniques?  You make a scarf and a golden cape spun from spider silk.  Using half a million dollars of your own money.

The story has been making the rounds lately, but these videos about its creation were so captivating I had to post them!  A team of people labored for years to capture spiders, and then persuade them to produce enough silk to weave a garment.  It’s a rather mind-boggling process:

“The spiders are harnessed … held down in a delicate way,” Godley says, “so you need people to do this who are very tactile so the spiders are not harmed. So there’s a chain of about 80 people who go out every morning at four o’clock, collect spiders, we get them in by 10 o’clock. They’re in boxes, they’re numbered, and then as they get silked, about 20 minutes later, they get released back into nature.”   (NPR interview)

The Madagascar Golden Orb Weaver Spider is the spider-goose that laid the golden…er, thread.  It’s estimated that  1,063,000 spiders contributed silk.  The color of the silk is amazing–I had no idea!  The embroidery is also beautiful, with a spider motif.

This second video has more info about the history of trying to make textiles out of spider silk, footage of the apparatus they used to collect the spider silk, and some natural history information about the orb weavers.

Enjoy!

I also scored a copy of the book Spider Silk:Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating, so I’ll be posting a review soon.

More social spiders in the news!

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I’m a little late on this one, but since people seem to find social spiders fascinating (in a Halloween sort of way), I thought I’d mention this news story about spiders living in groups–to capture large prey!

“The average size of the prey captured by the colony increased 20-fold as colony size increased from less than 100 to 10,000 spiders,” says Avilés, who studied the spiders in the wild in Amazonian Ecuador with undergraduate student Eric Yip and graduate student Kimberly Powers.

“So even though the number of prey falls sharply as the colony grows, the biomass that individual spiders acquire actually increases.”

The study also found that large prey, while making up only eight per cent of the colony’s diet, contributed to more than 75 per cent of its nutritional needs.”

You can read the actual paper in PNAS here; it’s a nifty study.

PNAS August 19, 2008 vol. 105 no. 33 11818-11822.  Cooperative capture of large prey solves scaling challenge faced by spider societies.  Eric C. Yip, Kimberly S. Powers, Leticia Avilés. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0710603105