It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Spiders are capable of flying using their silk, a well known ability known as ballooning. The action involves producing silk that, after reaching a few inches in length, lifts the spider into the air and carries it to a new location. The actual mechanism behind ballooning, though, has remained a mystery, with some speculating that it involves air currents. A new study has provided the answer.
Though spiders don’t have wings, they’re capable of flying across large distances, landing and repeating the process until they’ve travelled anywhere from a few feet to hundreds of miles. Spiders in the process of ballooning are observed to climb to a high distance, then raise their rear legs and release silk threads into the air.
Wind seems like an obvious answer to the mystery; the silk acts as a sort of parachute that catches a breeze, enabling the spider to sail to its new location. However, there’s one big problem: ballooning has been observed in environments where there is no breeze. That observation led to speculation that the Earth’s electric field may be the actual answer, but no studies — until now — had tested that idea.
New research out of the University of Bristol has given us the answer: electric fields, not just wind, enable spiders to fly. Spider silk is an electric insulator, and it turns out that the tiny sensory hairs on a spider’s legs enable it to sense electric fields. These e-fields, as they’re commonly called, can cause lift for ballooning spiders even if there’s no wind to carry them.
Of the latter spider, Darwin writes that it, “while standing on the summit of a post, darted forth four or five threads from its spinners. These, glittering in the sunshine, might be compared to diverging rays of light; they were not, however, straight, but in undulations like films of silk blown by the wind. They were more than a yard in length, and diverged in an ascending direction from the orifices. The spider then suddenly let go of its hold on the post, and was quickly borne out of sight. The day was hot and apparently quite calm...”