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Keywords:

  • birefringence;
  • spider;
  • dragline;
  • silk;
  • mechanical testing

Abstract

This study investigates the relationship between birefringence and mechanical properties in the dragline silk of the gold orb weaving spider Nephila edulis. Using a custom birefringence-tensile testing device, we probed the orientation and water-induced swelling of fibers spun at variety of drawing rates ranging from 0.003 to 400 mm s−1. Our results indicate that based upon drawing rate, silk fibers fall into three distinct regimes each with characteristic orientation and swelling properties. Further investigation using in situ tensile testing reveals interactions between a fiber's drawing speed, mechanical properties, and orientation that support previous model predictions. We propose that simultaneous birefringence-tensile testing provides a unique and readily accessible insight into the structural behavior of this interesting and important biomaterial. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers 97: 368–373, 2012.