If you’re terrified of spiders, what we’ve uncovered isn’t going to make you feel better. The eight-legged creatures are found all around the world, and it seems that they don’t just travel by land. According to scientists, spiders do fly far distances at a time — there’s no escape whether you’re at sea or atop a tree.
A Mystery Since the Time of Darwin
It’s impossible to talk about evolution without Charles Darwin, and even he was aware of this spider phenomenon. During his 20s, he was on a ship called the HMS Beagle. Nothing seemed unusual at first, but then he spotted spiders — thousands upon thousands of them.
Somehow, these small, red creatures got onto the ship, which was at least 60 miles away from land. How did they get there? Darwin wasn’t exactly sure how, but he believes they must have floated to the area. From this story alone, we now know that it’s been a subject of curiosity since the 19th century.
Winds and The Act of Ballooning
A common belief was that spiders were able to fly around because of strong winds. It makes sense, right? If they’re light enough, they could release silk and allow the wind to drag the silk and their bodies in the air. But here’s the thing: Spiders were still seen flying even when the winds were relatively calm.
So how do spiders fly when they don’t have wings in the first place? The process is called ballooning, and it involves climbing, using silk, and positioning the abdomen. As for what helps them take off, it isn’t the wind. Instead, the primary factor is the electric field, characterized by positive and negative charges.
Flight and The Electric Field
The Earth has a natural electric field. In particular, the atmosphere has more positive charges the higher it is from the ground. In contrast, the ground has a negative charge. And with tens of thousands of thunderstorms occurring regularly, the spiders can always rely on the Earth’s electric field to fly.
The process begins with spiders releasing silk, which then gets the negative charge in its surrounding area. This charge then interacts with the negative charge on the surface the spiders are on — generating a force that propels them upwards. How do they sense electric charges? With the hairs on their feet.
And if their ballooning point is from a plant or tree, they can get a better lift. Why? It’s because the plants are rooted on the ground but have parts that reach the air. Thus, they are at a place where there is a mix of negative and positive charges. As long as there is an electric field, spiders can get off the land.
Thanks to science, we now know the answer to Charles Darwin’s problem. Through ballooning, spiders can not only escape floods but also get away from predators. This only proves how resilient they have been for hundreds of millions of years, regardless of how much some people are scared of them today.