BMEWS
 
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calendar   Thursday - March 31, 2011

Just Buggin

Things That Make My Skin Crawl




What do these trees

image




and this 11 foot by 4 foot cloth

image



have in common?





Both are the results of spiders. Yikes!


Millions of Spiders in Pakistan Encase Entire Trees in Webs

The unprecedented flooding in Pakistan in the latter half of 2010 disrupted the lives of 20 million people, but it also affected the country’s arachnid population.

With more than a fifth of the country submerged, millions of spiders climbed into trees to escape the rising floodwaters. The water took so long to recede, the trees became covered in a cocoon of spiderwebs. The result is an eerie, alien panorama, with any vegetation covered in a thick mass of webbing.

However, the unusual phenomenon may be a blessing in disguise. Britain’s department for international development reports that areas where the spiders have scaled the trees have seen far fewer malaria-spreading mosquitos than might be expected, given the prevalence of stagnant, standing water.




A spectacular and extremely rare textile, woven from golden-colored silk thread produced by more than one million spiders in Madagascar, goes on display Wednesday, September 23 [2009] in the Museum’s Grand Gallery. This magnificent contemporary textile, measuring 11 feet by 4 feet, took four years to make using a painstaking technique developed more than 100 years ago.

This unique textile was created drawing on the legacy of a French missionary, Jacob Paul Camboué, who worked with spiders in Madagascar in the 1880s and 1890s. Camboué worked to collect and weave spider silk but with limited success, and no surviving textile is now known to exist. Previously, the only known spider-silk textile of note was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, and it was subsequently lost.

image“Spider silk is very elastic, and it has a tensile strength that is incredibly strong compared to steel or Kevlar,” said textile expert Simon Peers, who co-led the project.
... Peers came up with the idea of weaving spider silk after learning about the French missionary Jacob Paul Camboué, who worked with spiders in Madagascar during the 1880s and 1890s. Camboué built a small, hand-driven machine to extract silk from up to 24 spiders at once, without harming them.

Simon managed to build a replica of this 24-spider-silking machine that was used at the turn of the century,” said Nicholas Godley, who co-led the project with Peers. As an experiment, the pair collected an initial batch of about 20 spiders. “When we stuck them in the machine and started turning it, lo and behold, this beautiful gold-colored silk started coming out,” Godley said.
...
But to make a textile of any significant size, the silk experts had to drastically scale up their project. “Fourteen thousand spiders yields about an ounce of silk,” Godley said, “and the textile weighs about 2.6 pounds. The numbers are crazy.”

The bright flaxen color of the fabric is a natural product of the golden orb spider.  Norm Platnick, the Peter J. Sullivan Family Curator of Spiders at the Museum, explained that the color is unique to the golden orb species.  Different spiders can produce different hues of gold, depending on what they eat, but each strand is twisted from the silk of about 96 spiders, making the color appear uniform.  Over a million spiders were used for the project, producing the raw material at a rate of 14,000 spiders per ounce of silk.
...
The tapestry may be kept under glass, but it is far from fragile.  “Spider silk is incredibly strong,” said Platnick.  “Its tensile strength in many cases is greater than steel of the same diameter.” Scientists have been attempting for decades to recreate the lightweight strength of the web with synthetic materials, but so far have had little success.  Such a manmade fabric could be used in anything from parachutes to bulletproof vests.

Mark Mitchell, who worked on the project, points out that spider silk is sustainable, as opposed to traditional silk made from silkworms, mostly in China.  The production of “regular silk results in 100% death of the caterpillars,” said Mitchell, whereas their technique causes few spider deaths.

Gosh. Curator of Spiders. That’s a career path you don’t see on many resumes. I tried real hard to find a picture of an actual spider silk milking machine but no luck. I figured that would make the greatest WhatsIt post ever.

More info on the spider silk textile here. Another source for the tree spiders story is here.

h/t to Rich K


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 03/31/2011 at 12:38 PM   
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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