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J Exp Biol. 2006 Jul;209(Pt 13):2452-61.

Silken toolkits: biomechanics of silk fibers spun by the orb web spider Argiope argentata (Fabricius 1775).

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-3908, USA.


Orb-weaving spiders spin five fibrous silks from differentiated glands that contain unique sets of proteins. Despite diverse ecological functions, the mechanical properties of most of these silks are not well characterized. Here, we quantify the mechanical performance of this toolkit of silks for the silver garden spider Argiope argentata. Four silks exhibit viscoelastic behaviour typical of polymers, but differ statistically from each other by up to 250% in performance, giving each silk a distinctive suite of material properties. Major ampullate silk is 50% stronger than other fibers, but also less extensible. Aciniform silk is almost twice as tough as other silks because of high strength and extensibility. Capture spiral silk, coated with aqueous glue, is an order of magnitude stretchier than other silks. Dynamic mechanical properties are qualitatively similar, but quantitatively vary by up to 300% among silks. Storage moduli are initially nearly constant and increase after fiber yield, whereas loss tangents reach maxima of 0.1-0.2 at the yield. The remarkable mechanical diversity of Argiope argentata silks probably results in part from the different molecular structures of fibers and can be related to the specific ecological role of each silk. Our study indicates substantial potential to customize the mechanics of bioengineered silks.

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