General, Ciencia

Making Costa Rica Bullet Proof

Most people aren’t huge fans of spiders, but the golden orb, is the exception to the rule. After researching this spider, I can see how they would make a spiderman super hero. The golden orbs produce the largest and strongest webs. During your visit to Costa Rica, be sure to look out for the gorgeous eight-legged creatures. Not only are they impressive looking, but they produce silk that is five times stronger than steel and more flexible than nylon! The US military, civil engineers, biomedical techs, and clothing producers alike are searching for ways to mass produce their silk. 

While the critters have golden specs throughout their body, they were actually named after the golden webs that they create to match the afternoon light. As the background light changes the spider can actually change the color of the web to match the new background while weaving it! If a super strength and elastic multi-color creating creature isn’t enough to impress, the golden orb secretes it’s own pest deterrent, pyrrolidine alkaloid, to send the ants running. The female spider can run up to 1,000x larger than the male (See a picture of a female/male size comparison here). The size disparity is so large that, at times, the male can inseminate the female without her even noticing. He can also live as a freeloader, on her web, eating her catch, un-noticed. 

In human proportions, the web of a Golden Orb, could, theoretically, catch a passenger jet mid-flight! As the web entangles prey, it recoils, so as to avoid flinging the catch back the other direction. Two proteins are responsible for the yin-yang power pack, gylcine and alanine. They are laced together during the web spinning process. In addition to the incredible strength and elasticity, the webs are waterproof and enormous! They can span 20 feet tall (6m) and 6.5 feet wide (2m). If left undisturbed, they can last years! The webs often catch birds, but golden orbs don’t eat birds. Either out of consideration for birds, or because they grow tired of birds thrashing around in their webs, the orbs often leave a line of insect husks so that the birds can see and avoid their web.  

Recognizing the natural assets of the silk is nothing new. Tribal populations in the South Pacific Islands have used the webs to make fishing lures and traps. In Southeast Asia, people have used the webs as nets, simply swiping a curved stick through the web. It’s been known to have been used as a bandage to stop bleeding in numerous regions. In New Guinea, they are an edible treat to the indigenous. If mass produced, this silk could make: bullet proof vests, lighter and stronger seat belts and clothing, solar sails, space telescopes, suspension cables, ropes, parachutes, artificial ligament scaffolding, and countless other things! Which is why the US Defense Department has invested a pretty penny in high-tech firms, supporting their research of reconstituting silk using spider stem cells. 

 In addition to Costa Rica, these super spiders are found around the world: Africa, India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, and even in parts of the U.S. I once found a golden orb in Oklahoma City!


 Enviornmental Graffiti 


 Tufts Journal