Electricity potential answer to the mystery of 'flying' spiders

Mindy Sparks
July 11, 2018

Via Motherboard, researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered that the presence of an electrical current is one of the contingent factors that allow spiders to use their long-documented, poorly understood "ballooning" technique to stay airborne. well, for miles. These findings were reported by Erica Morley and Daniel Robert of the School of Biological Sciences at Bristol.

After years and years of studies and debates, researchers finally managed to figure out if spiders can fly by using the waved silk as parachute or if they are carried by static electricity which reacts with the silk.

It's been a longstanding mystery: Spiders have been seen hundreds of miles out to sea and thousands of feet up in the air. In fact, they can even fly in the rain with no wind about. When the charged is switched off, the spiders take a dive. "Why is it that some days there are large numbers that take to the air, while other days no spiders will attempt to balloon at all?"

"Many spiders balloon using multiple strands of silk that splay out in a fan-like shape, which suggests that there must be a repelling electrostatic force involved".

The study's conclusions were that wind plays its part in the ballooning process and the number of miles spiders can travel. They launch from the ground by raising their abdomen to the sky, spinning off 7-13 foot long silk parachutes and simply fly.

Basically, thunderstorms create a constant electric circuit between the surface of the earth and the upper atmosphere, according to a press release about the study. APG is also known to interact with lifeforms (most often more stationary organisms such as plants) to form more personal "e-fields" for the living being. "That's kind of what's happening with the spider silk". Robert exposed Linyphiid spiders to laboratory-controlled e-fields. For example, bumblebees may use them to detect and zero in on flowers. In other words, when the e-field was on, the spiders flew upward, but when they were off, they came down. Rise up provides it's electricity, not air.

Morley and Roberts found that spiders appear to be able to detect electrical fields.

These new findings can help scientists more accurately predict ballooning behavior in spiders as well as other animals who exhibit the ability such as caterpillars and spider mites.

"Previously, drag forces from wind or thermals were thought responsible for this mode of dispersal, but we show that electric fields, at strengths found in the atmosphere, can trigger ballooning and provide lift in the absence of any air movement".

An improved understanding of the mechanisms behind dispersal are important for global ecology as they can lead to better descriptions of population dynamics, species distributions and ecological resilience.

Once the spiders are in the air, turning the electric field on and off drove them to float up and down, respectively.

"We also hope to carry out further investigations into the physical properties of ballooning silk and carry out ballooning studies in the field".

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