The next time you put on a tie or wrap that scarf around your neck, talk to your children about how the silk for these accessories comes from a special insect called the silkworm. These worms won’t look like the ones your kids find in the dirt.
These insects feed on mulberry trees and weave their cocoons from two silk glands located under their body. The glands produce the natural protein fiber and form a half-mile long cocoon.
In Asia, silkworm farms with thousands of these 3-inch worms produce the silk from the cocoons. Spiders are another source of silk. Yes, scientists have found that spider webs are one of the strongest fibers in nature; but it’s hard to extract silk from spiders since they produce only a small amount of it.
It would take 27,000 spiders, each spinning a single web, to get one pound of web. Unlike the silkworm, spiders couldn’t live in farm-like conditions because they are territorial carnivores and would likely eat one another when kept in groups.
Nonetheless, scientists are searching for ways to produce a synthetic version of spider silk because their fiber is even stronger than the material used for bullet-proof vests!
Content provided by Oakland University.