While dusting the house have you ever cross jhalis (webs) in the corners of the wall? Sometimes you may come across them under table corners or at rarely used places. Yes, the webs are woven by spiders.

It’s a nuisance clearing them for just when you manage to remove one sticky web, the spider scurries off to a corner to spin yet another!

How do Spiderwebs Help Skydivers? [Illustration by Anup Singh]
How do Spiderwebs Help Skydivers? [Illustration by Anup Singh]

But before you destroy these webs with a sweep of the broom, here’s some food for thought – you are about to dismantle one of the strongest structures in the natural world!

Once caught in a spider web, even insects that are larger and stronger than spiders cannot escape from these silken threads. Spiders are very useful creatures around the house as they trap flies, mosquitoes and other pests in their webs and eat them.

However, when a web gets wet it can shrink to as little as 55 per cent of its original length. Now, for a spider that is good news since old droopy webs will self-tighten when it rains.

Scientists and researchers have tried to work on the same principle to design parachutes of super strong spider silk. But they were going nowhere, for while such a parachute would be incredibly strong but at the same time lightweight, a jumper unfortunate enough to get caught in stormy weather would plunge to his death as the silk would shrink!

Dew drops on a spiderweb
Dew drops on a spiderweb

Meanwhile, new research by American scientists doing a chemical analysis of spider silk revealed that the most probable cause of shrinkage was a certain arrangement of 11 molecules known as amino acids.

The team then managed to figure out a similar string of molecules that could replace the amino acid block, thus resulting in a silk that’s just as strong but not as water sensitive as to shrink.

Skydivers in mid air formation
Skydivers in mid air formation

But this is rather complicated and will involve inserting the required arrangement into the spider – a process known as genetic coding.

Perhaps in the near future we shall soon see spiders and humans working together, the spider spinning its silk and the human weaving it to make a parachute.

371 words | 3 minutes
Readability: Grade 8 (13-14 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: 5ws and h
Tags: #scientists, #molecules, #parachute, #spiders

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