Spider silk is well known as one of the strongest natural materials in existence, but now scientists have a better understanding of why – and it's all to do with the old adage of strength in numbers.

Through an atomic force microscope trained on the silk of a brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) – which essentially feels its way along at a molecular level – each strand of its silk was shown to be made up of thousands of nanostrands or nanofibrils, running in parallel.

It's hoped that the discovery will help us continue to develop super-strong materials of our own.

Each of these thin nanostrands is made up of protein and measures less than a millionth of an inch in diameter – hundreds of thousands of times thinner than the width of a human hair, say the scientists from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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