Evidence for diet effects on the composition of silk proteins produced by spiders

Catherine L. Craig*, Christian Riekel, Marie E. Herberstein, Robert S. Weber, David Kaplan, Naomi E. Pierce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


Silks are highly expressed, secreted proteins that represent a substantial metabolic cost to the insects and spiders that produce them. Female spiders in the superfamily Araneoidea (the orb-spinning spiders and their close relatives) spin six different kinds of silk (three fibroins and three fibrous protein glues) that differ in amino acid content and protein structure. In addition to this diversity in silks produced by different glands, we found that individual spiders of the same species can spin dragline silks (drawn from the spider's ampullate gland) that vary in content as well. Freely foraging Argiope argentata (Araneae: Araneoidea), collected from 13 Caribbean islands, produced dragline silk that showed an inverse relationship between the amount of serine and glycine they contained. X-ray microdiffraction of the silks localized these differences to the amorphous regions of the protein that are thought to lend silks their elasticity. The crystalline regions of the proteins, which lend silks their strength, were unaffected. Laboratory experiments with Argiope keyserlingi suggested that variation in silk composition reflects the type of prey the spiders were fed but not the total amount of prey they received. Hence, it may be that the amino acid content (and perhaps the mechanical properties) of dragline silk spun by Argiope directly reflect the spiders' diet. The ability to vary silk composition and, possibly, function is particularly important for organisms that disperse broadly, such as Argiope, and that occupy diverse habitats with diverse populations of prey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1904-1913
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Amino acid
  • Argiope argentata
  • Diet
  • Protein structure
  • Silk
  • Spider


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