oldest spider silk found

Do you think the ancient cobwebs hanging in your attic are old? Well, Samuel Zschokke of the University of Basel in Switzerland has you beat. Zschokke reports in the Aug. 7 Nature that he has found a strand of spider silk preserved in amber that is 130 million years old. His discovery beats the age of the previously known oldest spider thread by some 90 million years. The amber contains a single strand about 4 millimeters, or about a .16 of an inch long and is coated with sticky glue droplets (presumably to better catch prey) similar to those produced by many of today’s spider species. Zschokke writes that the strand “shows a striking resemblance to recent araneoid spider threads.” (Araneoid spiders spin sticky, intricate orb-webs.) The specimen gives “direct evidence for the antiquity” of sticky spider silk, though Zschokke cautions, “the fossil thread could have been part of a web type that no longer exists today.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 8/19/2003.
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