International researchers have discovered a new type of silk that is produced by a very unusual Australian spider. He uses it to create a network of baskets. They not only come across prey, these baskets from serve as protection for spider eggs. Details about the new species are reported by scientists from the University of Melbourne in an article for the journal Scientific Reports.

The spider Saccodomus formivorus weaves silk that is uniquely tough and so durable that the basket net does not need the support of the surrounding vegetation to maintain its structure.

“As far as we know, no other spider builds such a web,” said Professor Mark Elgar of the University of Melbourne’s School of Biosciences. “This silk retains its stiffness, allowing it to create a deadly ant trap.”

Collaboration between the University of Melbourne and the University of Bayreuth with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization is likely to generate great interest. A recent study found that the silk used to create the basket webs is similar to the silk used by many spider species to wrap their brood against the weather and enemies.

The spider is found only in Australia. Its basket is approximately 11mm in diameter and 14mm deep. The nature of silk was unveiled by the Australian Synchrotron, the national institution of the Australian Organization for Nuclear Science and Technology in southeast Melbourne. The Australian Synchrotron is a 3 GeV electron accelerator and a specialized source of X-ray synchrotron radiation with a critical photon energy of 7.8 keV.

Professor Thomas Scheibel of the University of Bayreuth stated that the stiffness of silk appears to be the result of a synergistic arrangement of microfibers and submicron fibers.

“Nature has created a complex structure that at first glance resembles commercially produced composites,” explains Professor Scheibel, who led the study from Germany. “Further studies, however, have shown that they are chemically different components, and together their properties lead to the extreme elasticity and toughness of the yarn. This is what ensures the high degree of strength of the web.”

While there is a lot of work to be done to understand the molecular details of silk, Professor Scheibel said there is potential interest in new genetic material that can be produced in a scalable manner.

“An interesting feature is the high lateral rigidity, as well as adhesives, which can be useful in various designs, but it will take some time before this becomes possible,” the scientists conclude.

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