Spider Silk

An engaging story of how spiders and their silks evolved over 400 million years.

Spiders, objects of eternal human fascination, are found in many places: on the ground, in the air, and even under water. Leslie Brunetta and Catherine Craig have teamed up to produce a substantive yet entertaining book for anyone who has ever wondered, as a spider rappelled out of reach on a line of silk, 'How do they do that?' + Full description

The orb web, that iconic wheel-shaped web most of us associate with spiders, contains at least four different silk proteins, each performing a different function and all meshing together to create a fly-catching machine that has amazed and inspired humans through the ages. Brunetta and Craig tell the intriguing story of how spiders evolved over 400 million years to add new silks and new uses for silk to their survival 'toolkit' and, in the telling, take readers far beyond the orb.

The authors describe the trials and triumphs of spiders as they use silk to negotiate an ever-changing environment, and they show how natural selection acts at the genetic level and as individuals struggle for survival.

- Short description


"With structure, humour, history, clear language and images, the authors seem to have thought of everything to make their book accessible and interesting for everyone. I would recommend Spider Silk as an ideal coffee table addition, and it may even spark the interest of future arachnologists, evolutionary biologists or geneticists."
Sharon Zuiddam, Australasian Arachnology 82, 2011, pp. 11-12

"On the way through this engaging history there are many tales and snippets about the spiders that surround us today. Reading this excellent book will add an extra dimension to your appreciation of your eight-legged companions."
Dr Helen Smith, Explore, Summer 2010-2011

"Spider Silk encourages readers to observe and marvel at the multitude of ways in which spiders use silk, beyond the familiar orb web, helping to give these extraordinary creatures the respect they deserve."
Anna Ree Cutler, Myrmecia magazine (Australian Entomological Society), 2010

"It’s an undeniably absorbing read and a perfect tribute to the spider’s silken skills."
Owen Seeman, Wildlife Australia Magazine, Summer 2010

"This wonderful book cures arachnophobia for any lucky reader. Brunetta and Craig combine superb scholarship with engaging writing, providing a compelling introduction to evolution in action through the lens of spiders and their silks."
Simon Levin, Princeton University, author of Fragile Dominion.

"Introducing a review of a book on silk by referring to it as a ‘ripping yarn’ may seem frivolous, but this is a compelling and immensely readable account that engages the reader from start to finish and that I found difficult to put down. Buy it for your own interest, or as a gift for your favourite arachnophobe – you might just make a convert!"
Tim R New, Journal of Insect Conservation, 2010

"…a good instructive and entertaining read…"
Ian Fraser, Natural History Book Reviews, http://www.botanicalbookshop.com.au/reviews.asp

"From black widows to balloon-riders and bola-swingers, spider evolution depends critically on a few proteins in silk. Brunetta and Craig weave genetics and behavior into a silky-smooth portrait of this fascinating group."
Richard Wrangham, Harvard University, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Spider Silk—a wonderful, charismatic natural history of spiders—will truly inspire all readers who may never before have appreciated this unique group of organisms.”
Margaret Lowman, author of Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology and of It’s a Jungle Up There: More Tales from the Treetops


Chapter 1 Fossils
Chapter 2 Living Fossils
Chapter 3 Chance and Change
Chapter 4 Outward and Upward
Chapter 5 Triumph over Thin Air
Chapter 6 Small Changes, Big Benefits
Chapter 7 Spinning, Running, Jumping, Swimming
Chapter 8 Going Vertical
Chapter 9 Links
Chapter 10 Now You See It, Now You Don't
Chapter 11 Beyond "Perfect"
Chapter 12 Endless Forms
Other Sources Consulted
Recommended Reading


Leslie Brunetta is a freelance writer and editor, whose articles have appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Technology Review, Princeton Alumni Weekly and Verbatim.

Catherine L Craig is an internationally recognised arachologist and authority on silk and its structure and evolution. She is the author of Spiderwebs and Silk.