Silk is a natural fibre produced by spiders and some insects.
Spiders use silk to create their webs and catch prey but also for wrapping their eggs. Species that do not create webs still use silk to help them travel from place to place.
The most well known producers of silk within the insects are the silkmoths. The caterpillars of these moths secrete silk and wrap themselves in it before producing a cocoon. This silk can be unwound, cleaned and then used to create fine textiles.
Silk has a long tradition of commercial production, dating back some 2500 years and silk is known to have been used for 2000 years before that. It originated in China where its universal appeal led to the development of the 'Silk Road' - from Xi'an to Rome and then across the Atlantic.
The silk trade is now a multi-billion dollar industry and silk is produced commercially by Japan, India, South Korea, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Brazil, as well as in China.
A photograph of a garden spider wrapping prey caught in its web with silk.
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