As Peter Parker could tell you if he weren't off fighting the Green Goblin, spiders are amazing creatures. A lot of that awesomeness stems from the silk with which they spin their mighty webs. With its tough but elastic nature, the silk that some arachnids like to loop from spot to spot creates a dragline that's tougher than Kevlar -- the material you want to be outfitted with if you ever decide to take a bullet, not that we're suggesting that.
Now a couple of researchers suggest that they've found the toughest biological material ever, as reported in the journal PLoS ONE. The material in question comes from one Caerostris darwini, a giant orb weaver spider commonly called Darwin's bark spider that inhabits tropical spots like Madagascar and weaves some of the largest webs nature has to offer.
An orb weaver spider fashions a web a la "Charlotte's Web," or as the University of Kentucky's entomologists helpfully suggest, like a circular grid. A large web isn't going to do a big, hungry spider any good if it collapses at the first run-in with fast-flying prey. So C. darwini's web, often strategically stretched across bodies of water, has evolved to absorb some serious kinetic energy from bees, dragonflies, mayflies and other prey items without flinching. The researchers state in PLoS ONE that the spider's silk is 10 times better than Kevlar.
If you're like me, you're probably curious how scientists test the silk's strength. With the help of a tensile tester, researchers slowly stretch the strands until they break and then evaluate some of the silk's mechanical properties. But here's the thing. They probably shouldn't be putting away that tensile tester quite yet because if the researchers are correct, there are some even tougher spider silks to be discovered in the natural world and re-engineered in the lab. Imagine the possibilities.
Somewhere Spider-Man is.