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Unraveling The Secrets Of Spider Webs

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Thanks to silk synthesis, which spiders have held secret for several hundred million years, spiders can weave a web with up to seven different kinds of silk.

Spiders are amazing creatures. But before you shudder at the word "spider," take a moment to consider what they do for our ecosystem. Spiders catch things we don't like, like aphids, mosquitoes, and flies. If you can leave spiders alone, they'll happily eat all of the insects in your house. But their appetite for bugs isn't the only reason Dr. Cheryl Hayashi finds them fascinating.

Hayashi is the Leon Hess Director of Comparative Biology Research at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. She specializes in spiders, primarily researching their silk — actually, that's silks. It turns out some spiders can make more than one, depending on what they need the silk to do for them.

“When people say that spiders weave silk, I mean that is just the perfect word," says Hayashi. "They really are weaving and taking a little bit of this silk A and silk B and mixing it all together.”

Hayashi will give the Science on Tap lecture Thursday evening at the Milwaukee Public Museum on the Secrets of Spider Webs. She joined Lake Effect's Bonnie North via Skype to explain why spider silks are such a big deal:

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.