Few people are aware of how black widow spiders contributed to the World War II effort, but they had a significant impact.
In fact, a LIFE magazine article published on August 30thof 1943 credited each of several government employed arachnids with spinning between 100 and 180 feet of thread a week. This thread was then used to make crosshairs in the gunsights of U.S. Army instruments of war.
This is not the first time spider thread was employed for this purpose. Before World War II began, different species of garden spiders had threaded various precision optical devices throughout the United States. However, with the arrival of war, the black widow was used out of necessity to supplement a dwindling supply of material (1). Ironically, workers at the U.S Army Quartermaster Corps spider web production shop, where thread was collected, found black widows much easier to use than the other less poisonous but faster moving garden varieties.
The Quartermaster Corps was in charge of all aspects of thread collection, including spider gathering. They did this on base at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where soldiers famously encountered high populations of black widows during outdoor training. After on-base collection, the specimens were sent to Columbus, Ohio, where they were housed in glass jars, fed two flies each week, and began systematically producing thread.