Spider Silk


Spider silk
Martin LaBar, via Flickr

Mike Procter and Christy VanArragon look at a very unpopular insect: the spider. Spiders make beautiful webs and catch insects, but people use them for many other things too.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Christy VanArragon.

Voice 2 

And I’m Mike Procter. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

It is stronger than steel. It is more difficult to break than rubber. It is one of the strongest natural substances on earth. Yet it comes from a very small creature. Today’s Spotlight is on spider silk.

Voice 2 

The spider is not the world’s most popular creature. In fact, it is probably one of the most disliked creatures. Many people are even afraid of spiders! But why is it that people do not like spiders? Most house spiders are not even very big. Very few spiders ever grow bigger than the size of an adult’s hand.

Voice 1 

Maybe it is their eight long hairy legs. Maybe it is the way they move quickly across the floor. Maybe it is their dark colours and small shiny eyes. Of course some spiders are poisonous. It makes sense to be careful around those spiders. And this may make some people afraid of all spiders.

Voice 2 

No matter how you feel about spiders, they are still amazing creatures. One of the most amazing things about spiders is what they produce – soft, strong silk!

Voice 1 

When you think of silk you probably imagine beautiful silk clothes. This soft, fine material is very popular. In the past only royal people wore silk. And silk still costs a lot of money today. However this kind of silk does not come from spiders. Some of it is man-made. And some of it comes from silkworms. These small insects are easy to farm. So companies can make large amounts of silk.

Voice 2 

But it is not so easy with spiders. They do not make silk the way silkworms do. Silkworms produce just one kind of silk. But spiders can produce more than seven kinds!

Voice 1 

To make silk, spiders produce substances called ‘proteins’. Spiders ‘weave’ or ‘spin’ these silk proteins to make their webs. They turn the protein into long thin pieces of silk. Spiders create different kinds of silk for different parts of their webs. For example, they use sticky silk to weave the top part of their web. This is the part that helps them catch insects for food. Spiders make the main structure of the web from dragline silk. Dragline silk is one of the strongest natural substances on the earth!

Voice 2 

This sounds a little strange at first. How could a spider’s silk be so strong? Imagine a spider’s web. Sometimes they are so fine that we do not even see them. The web is so thin it moves around in the wind. Spider’s silk is one-tenth the thickness of a human hair. Who would have known it could be so strong?

Voice 1 

People discovered the strength of spider silk many years ago. The tribal people in the South Pacific used spiders’ webs as tools. They used webs to make fishing lines and nets to catch fish. In the past, people have also used spider webs to make clothes. These clothes protected them from the rain. They have even used webs as bandages to cover wounds!

Voice 2 

Over the past 200 years, scientists have studied spider silk. They have tried to find ways to make large amounts of silk. But so far they have not succeeded. Scientists have had more success in copying spider silk using other materials. It has influenced materials for use in medicine, cloth, electronics, and other industries. They have had success by following the nature of the spider.

Voice 1 

A spider’s nature is just like their silk - strong! In fact, some old writings say that the spider’s nature has encouraged great kings! One of these kings was Robert the Bruce. In the early 14th Century the Scottish army fought with England for control of Scotland. King Edward the first of England led a strong army. They defeated Bruce and his army in battle.

Voice 2 

The story of Bruce and the spider is famous in England and Scotland. But no one knows if it is true or not. The story says that after the Scottish defeat, Bruce escaped. He ran and hid in an opening in the hills. Bruce was very troubled in his mind and spirit. The English army had defeated the Scots in battle. And Bruce felt defeated in his mind too. It was the lowest point of his life. He considered leaving the country - and not returning. He lay on the ground. And he looked up. He saw a spider among the rocks. It was weaving its web. The spider had almost finished. It just needed to hang the last silk piece. Bruce watched the spider try. The long silk piece kept falling. The spider made six failed attempts. On the seventh, it succeeded. The web hung, complete. Bruce said,

Voice 3 

‘Now shall this spider teach me what I am to do, for I also have failed six times.’

Voice 2 

Bruce stood up. He returned to his army. He gathered together some more followers. He told his men, ‘If at first you do not succeed, try try again.’ Bruce and his army won their next battle.

Voice 1 

A spider’s web is much stronger than it looks. And a spider’s nature is to never stop trying. Who would have thought that a king could learn so much from a spider? Nature is full of surprises like this.

Voice 2 

The business of life often does not give much time to look around us. But the world of nature is producing some wonderful things, often right in front of us! The spider is only one example. Great teachers throughout history have pointed their students to nature to learn about life. Jesus taught his followers using the birds as an example. The Christian Bible records his words:

Voice 4 

‘Look at the birds of the air. They do not plant or gather crops. They do not keep crops in storerooms. But God in heaven feeds them. Are you not worth more than they are? Can you add even one hour to your life by worrying?’

Voice 1 

Nature is full of messages like this - and surprises like the spider. It can teach us many things, if we are willing to learn.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Marina Santee. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Spider Silk’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio at radioenglish dot net. You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you agree with the saying, ‘If at first you do not succeed, try try again?'

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
nature187_vn
said on October 10, 2012

Today, when I read program’story,I really suprised,and now I know that spider’s silk can use to make clothings.It’s really useful for social human
.Because it have in natural,and not polluted for enviroment .Follow me,the clothing we are wearing,be created by cotton,nilong by man-make,it very polluted for enviroment water,example waste from factory,company…I think the scientists should search much method can use spider silk popular to service for human in much various field…

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vienhuongbinhhoa
said on November 29, 2013

The nature teach me many lesson. i like this lesson

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Dela
said on November 29, 2013

I was surprised by reading a story how the spider even could encourage, teach a great king in the past. Of course, we should watch the nature observingly and we really be lucky finding many natural phenomena that we will be able to use as an example in our own life. Nature is an amazing teacher for all of us, it is sure.
Greetings

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kenhieuloilam
said on August 05, 2015

Early day comes. It is cold and quiet. Sounds of early day start. Dawn comes with warm rays of sunshine. Animals look for their food and birds sing loud on branches of tree. Nature is beautiful and the life has strenuousnesses. Domestic animals are simple, flesh-eating beasts are ferocious and venomous animals prey. Creatures are wise to exist. We learn many lessons in nature. Nature is gentle, powerful, imposing and immense. Nature can sweep away or destroy creatures. We recognise we are very small in front of nature and our lives are breaths. All creatures start and end. We will return to and dissolve in nature.

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Giant
said on February 14, 2016

Thank you ! Was very useful as a language even as science subject !