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Foreword to the V&A museum’s publication ‘Golden Spider Silk’, 2012
by Sir David Attenborough

Madagascar is an island surrounded by myth. It was once supposed to be the home of a gigantic bird big enough to lift an elephant in its talons and fly off with it. It was also said by some that a dog-headed man roamed its forests and seventeenth-century natural history books contained illustrations of it, standing upright with a shaggy coat, enormous calliperlike hands and the snouted furry face of a dog.

There was material evidence for both stories. Eggs the size of rugby footballs were sometimes found in the islands southern deserts – though we now know that the extinct birds that laid them were flightless, like ostriches. And in the rain forests in the east of the island lives a lemur, the largest of all surviving today, that has hind legs as long as its torso, that stands upright on the ground and has a long-snouted head reminiscent of a dog.

And now we are told that there is a spider living on the island that produces threads of silk that can be woven into a gleaming golden fabric so strong that it can be tailored into stockings fit for a princess.

I am lucky. I have seen the gigantic eggs and the giant lemur. I have also encountered Nephila, the huge spider in question, various species of which occur in tropical jungles around the world. I have even, like many other travellers, had to clear the silken threads from my face having carelessly walked into a yard-wide web slung between two trees. So I know how strong it can be. But I did not know, until I went to Madagascar, that anyone had been clever enough to weave those threads into a fabric. And I saw how it was done. Twenty-four female Nephilas, each sitting in her own little compartment, industriously spinning silk that is threaded through a tiny hole, wound on to bobbins and then woven to produce what must surely be counted as one of the rarest and most glamorous of fabrics.

Thank goodness the world still holds marvels.

Foreword to the V&A museum’s publication ‘Golden Spider Silk’, 2012
by Sir David Attenborough

Madagascar is an island surrounded by myth. It was once supposed to be the home of a gigantic bird big enough to lift an elephant in its talons and fly off with it. It was also said by some that a dog-headed man roamed its forests and seventeenth-century natural history books contained illustrations of it, standing upright with a shaggy coat, enormous calliperlike hands and the snouted furry face of a dog.

There was material evidence for both stories. Eggs the size of rugby footballs were sometimes found in the islands southern deserts – though we now know that the extinct birds that laid them were flightless, like ostriches. And in the rain forests in the east of the island lives a lemur, the largest of all surviving today, that has hind legs as long as its torso, that stands upright on the ground and has a long-snouted head reminiscent of a dog.

And now we are told that there is a spider living on the island that produces threads of silk that can be woven into a gleaming golden fabric so strong that it can be tailored into stockings fit for a princess.

I am lucky. I have seen the gigantic eggs and the giant lemur. I have also encountered Nephila, the huge spider in question, various species of which occur in tropical jungles around the world. I have even, like many other travellers, had to clear the silken threads from my face having carelessly walked into a yard-wide web slung between two trees. So I know how strong it can be. But I did not know, until I went to Madagascar, that anyone had been clever enough to weave those threads into a fabric. And I saw how it was done. Twenty-four female Nephilas, each sitting in her own little compartment, industriously spinning silk that is threaded through a tiny hole, wound on to bobbins and then woven to produce what must surely be counted as one of the rarest and most glamorous of fabrics.

Thank goodness the world still holds marvels.