You may or may not know that spiders can sort of fly, but in their case it is called “ballooning”. While they may not have wings, they can turn their silk into a mini parachute or balloon and use it to ride on the winds and “fly”. Scientists have known about and studied ballooning for some time now, but a recent study revealed another aspect to their method of flying. New research suggests that spiders also use the Earth’s natural electricity to help them fly.
Spiders can only balloon in the right conditions, somewhat similar to airplanes. But, when the wind is right and the planets are aligned just so, some species of spiders will climb up to a higher spot, release their silk parachute, and float away. Now these are not just short little flights. Spiders have been known to balloon for kilometers and even across oceans. One thing that has puzzled scientists is that in order for a spider to fly, they need wind speeds under 11 kilometers an hour; but that figure holds true for all spiders that can balloon, including the larger, heavier spider species with this ability. Those wind speeds by themselves shouldn’t be able to lift some of the larger species off the ground. This, of course, has led scientists to long wonder if something else is also involved in this flying technique.
New research reveals that electricity is also a key element. According to the recent study, spiders can actually sense the different electrical charges in the earth’s atmosphere. Researchers believe that spiders monitor the forces created by these electrical charges, and that the right amount of force might be a cue that it is a good time to go ballooning. It works as an invisible signal for the spiders, which could explain why you might see a bunch of spiders ballooning together one day, but they stay grounded on other days with the same weather conditions. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure how the electrical force might help them to actually lift off, but are working steadily to figure out that next piece of the puzzle.
Have you ever seen ballooning spiders? How do you think this electrical force might help them actually lift off the ground when they balloon?