Several other insects besides silkworms make silk, but not much has been known about the structure of those compounds. Bee and ant larvae produce silk and, although the silks in all these species are produced by the same glands, they use them quite differently. New research finds these silks are quite different than spider silks, but also very tough and durable:
Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2007 24(11):2424-2432; “Conservation of Essential Design Features in Coiled Coil Silks”
“The vast majority of known silks are large, repetitive proteins assembled into extended ß-sheet structures. Honeybees, however, have found a radically different evolutionary solution to the need for a building material. The 4 fibrous proteins of honeybee silk are small (30 kDa each) and nonrepetitive and adopt a coiled coil structure. We … found coiled coil structure in bees (Apoidea) and in ants (Vespoidea) but not in parasitic wasps of the Chrysidoidea. We subsequently identified and sequenced the silk genes of bumblebees, bulldog ants, and weaver ants and compared these with honeybee silk genes.”
In other bee news, you might remember me reporting on hive beetles earlier this year. Now researchers have taken an earlier discovery of how hive beetles recruit other beetles to a hive and turned it into a control strategy. Brilliant!