This week I am exploring a different realm of fact and I am making the jump from U.S. government to arachnology. In case you weren’t aware, arachnology is the study of spiders¹. Usually I am a lover of all creatures including snakes, dogs, and especially hairless cats. I was even known to save the worms off of my family’s driveway each morning after a rain when I was a child. However, spiders are different. Maybe it’s their eight hairy legs, multiple eyes, size or simple existence. But, after learning this next fact I was terrified thinking that I may never feel safe again.
UberFact: “Even though they don’t have wings, spiders can fly for hundreds of miles (across entire oceans) on long strands of silk using Earth’s electric fields; it’s called “ballooning.” Spiders have been found two-and-a-half miles up in the air, and 1,000 miles out to sea.” – 05/31/20, 16:57
But where’s the math? The proof:
**Optional drinking game: Take 1 drink for every time you read the word “spider”.**
There is a lot to unpack here and I feel overwhelmed trying to decide where to start. Their flight/ballooning? The use of Earth’s electric fields? Can humans do the same thing? Who found the spider 2.5 miles in the air? This is crazy!
It started with a simple search, “spider ballooning”. I was extremely lucky to find an amazing article entitled, “Spiders go ballooning on electric fields”² from phys.org that answered nearly all of my questions. Evidently, spiders achieve lift-off by releasing silk that carries them up and out onto the wind. At first scientists were puzzled because they noticed that spiders were capable of ballooning without any wind available. Biologists from University of Bristol believe they have found the answer in the Atmospheric Gradient Potential. Yes, those are big words, but it is an electric circuit that always exists in the atmosphere. Spiders and most insects are able to detect this electric circuit and use them to their benefit. In fact, this is the same way bees use their charge to communicate with one another. Spider silk is an effective electric insulator which means it will not allow an electric current to flow through it. Spiders use this conduction to propel the silk through the air, bringing them along with it. It has been shown that spiders are able to ride the currents for thousands of miles.
In an experiment conducted by the University of Bristol, they subjected Linyphiid spiders (spider pictured) to lab-controlled electric fields³. They were able to move them up and down in the atmosphere thus proving that when exposed to electric fields they could exhibit the same behavior that was observed in nature.
So there we have it… spiders do fly in their own unique way. Through this research I have a newfound appreciation for spiders and their effective use of their resources. I do not understand why they feel they have to be 2.5 miles in the air over the ocean, but I guess we all deserve a pleasant beach day. UberFacts got this one right and I am shocked. It sounded so far-fetched at first. Well you know me! I will continue to fact sleuth for you wonderful readers. Until next time, stay curious. And one last time for good measure: spiders.
1. “Arachnology”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arachnology
2. “Spiders go ballooning on electric fields”, phys.org, https://phys.org/news/2018-07-spiders-ballooning-electric-fields.html
3. Morley, E. & Robert, D. (2018). Electric Fields Elicit Ballooning in Spiders. Current Biology, 28(14), 2324-2330. e2. https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)30693-6?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982218306936%3Fshowall%3Dtrue