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Last Updated: Tuesday June 16 2009 16:04 GMT

Ricky checks out spider strength

Ricky with a spider

Watch Ricky hold a tarantula

They're creepy, hairy and can move pretty fast. What are we talking about...? Tarantula spiders!

Loads of people fear the crawly critters, but now they're being put to good use by helping scientists spin up a new type of material.

We sent Ricky to the spider lab to find out more...


"Let's face it... if you ask a group of people what they think about spiders most would say they're hairy, scary and not very nice to look at.

I feel the same. I don't have a phobia, but I wouldn't keep a spider as a pet and I definitely wouldn't want to work with them.

But that's exactly what a couple of scientists at the School of Biology, at the University of Nottingham, do everyday.

Inside their lab, there are hundreds of spiders. From small garden spiders to great big poisonous tarantulas.

Spider in a jar
Spider in a jar

Scientists there are busy unravelling the secrets of the spider web.

They're looking closely at the way tarantulas spin their webs and finding out some fascinating things.

Stronger than steel

The stuff that makes a spider web is called silk. Most spiders use that silk to catch insects for food and to get from A to B.

But experts say the silk from a tarantula is even more special. The webs they weave are large and look a bit like a sheet of thin tissue.

Scientists say it's a very strong raw material and now they're trying to reproduce it by studying the creepy crawlies closer.

Dr Sarah Goodacre
Dr Sarah Goodacre

They hope that in the future they will find a way to create the same silk to make all kinds of things.

Dr Sarah Goodacre works in the lab. She told me the tarantulas' silk is stronger than steel and could be used to make parachutes and clothes or even be used by doctors.

But there's a lot more research to do before the school can unravel all the spider's silk secrets.

Freak out

I got to see the spiders for myself while Harriet from the Newsround team filmed the tarantulas up close.

I thought I was lucky enough to stand back... until it was my time to hold the hairy tarantula for a piece to camera.

I have to admit, at one point I completely freaked out, shaking my hand to try to get the spider off.

Luckily the spider wasn't camera shy, but it did force me to present my piece to camera in record time!

After the shoot finished, one of the scientists helped me put the spider back in its cage where it carried on spinning its web.

I was more than happy to see the back of it!"

Ricky