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Spider Ballooning

July 11, 2018

Spiders sail through the air on electrical currents.

Transcript

This photograph shows a ballooning spider. Michael Hutchinson

A ballooning spider. (Michael Hutchinson)

BOB HIRSHON (Host):

Secrets of spider flight. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Spiders are master aviators, according to University of Bristol researcher Erica Morley; juveniles and some adults produce long strands of silk that let them balloon through the air.

ERICA MORLEY (University of Bristol):

They’ve actually been found over four kilometers up in the air and they’ve been found landing on ships far out at sea.

HIRSHON:

In the journal Current Biology, she and her colleagues write that it’s not just breezes that carry the arachnids aloft, but also electrostatic electricity. Electric fields surround us, waxing and waning depending on weather conditions. The scientists found that mild electrical fields tugged at little hairs on spiders’ legs, stimulating them to release silk and fly through the lab.

MORLEY:

We don’t yet know whether there is any control over where they go.

HIRSHON:

Knowing how spiders disperse is important to understanding ecosystem biology and resilience.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon