A new clue in the mystery of the flying spiders: electricity

The phenomenon of flying spiders, falling from the sky and traveling hundreds of kilometers like hot air balloons, has just found a new explanation: the air’s natural electric charge, which “would hang“The silken threads of arachnids.

Such air travel by spiders has been observed for a long time. Charles Darwin himself noted this in his diary in the 19th century.

A closely examined hypothesis was that spiders spin very fine threads, which are then carried by the wind, sometimes over very long distances and at heights of several kilometers. This was described in June by researcher Moonsung Cho in the journal PLOS Biology.

But atmospheric static electricity was the other hypothesis — the same one that raises hair and hair after rubbing a balloon on a wool sweater. Maybe spider threads are raised the same way?

This was tested in the lab by researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK. They published their results on Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

In a box, they created an atmosphere isolated from the surrounding air, without the electrical field otherwise found anywhere on earth. Then they created their own electric field that they could turn on and off.


Inside they placed a small erigone spider of a few millimeters, a family often used to study spider flights. “They are frequent astronauts and also fly as adults‘ researcher Erica Morley, lead author of the experiment, told AFP.

Then they observed what others had observed before them: the spider stands on its legs, then raises its abdomen up…and spins threads…before flying away in a snap, as if being carried away by a very fast hot-air balloon.

When the ambient power was off, the spiders fell back.

The researchers conclude that electrostatic forces are sufficient to make spiders fly. But they argue that they’re probably using both methods at the same time: wind and static electricity.

Research in this area is still in its infancy. There is a need to better study the physical properties of the very fine spider silk and conduct research outside of the laboratory. In addition to arthropods, caterpillars and other wingless insects spread by air.

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