Spider's super-glue: thread anchors are composite adhesives with synergistic hierarchical organization
Silk is a key innovation in spiders, fascinating both biologists and material scientists. However, to fulfil their biological function silken threads must be strongly fastened to substrates or other threads. The majority of modern spiders produce a unique and rather unexplored bio-adhesive: the two-compound pyriform secretion, which is spun into elaborate patterns (so called attachment discs) and used to anchor silken threads to substrates. Strong adhesion is achieved on a high variety of surfaces with a minimum of material consumption. Pyriform threads polymerize under ambient conditions, become functional within less than a second and can remain stable for years. They are biodegradable, biocompatible and highly versatile – the adhesion and the overall toughness of the attachment disc can be controlled by spinneret movements on a macroscopic level (ref. 1: V. Sahni et al., Nat. Commun., 2012, 3, 1106, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2099). We found that the pyriform thread is a silk fibre that is coated with glue-like cement consisting of aligned nanofibrils, lipid enclosures and a dense, isotropic boundary layer. The threads are spun in a meshwork pattern that promotes stress distribution and crack arresting. Our results demonstrate, that hierarchical organization and fibre embedding may explain the high adhesive strength and flaw tolerance of a structure made by the same, rather simple type of silk glands.