Spiders can fly on electric fields

Spider leg hair

In the research, published in Current Biology, University of Bristol scientists are arguing on the fact that Earth's electric field in the atmosphere is helping spiders to fly in the air even on the windless days. But gaining more knowledge about when and how spiders are able to become airborne could help us to estimate when a large number of arachnids will fly in the sky. Thunderstorms tap the energy of the Earth's atmospheric potential gradient (APG), the field of electricity that lies between the surface and the solar-irradiated ionosphere, to sustain an electrical charge stable enough to provide the needed lift, evidently cuing the spiders when it's time to deploy their silk-spun balloons.

Since the 1800s, scientists have marveled at how spiders can take flight using their webbing.

Two biologists from the University of Bristol in England believe they have solved the mystery. In nature, it makes sense for spiders to sense both the electrostatic field around them as well as wind conditions.

"Current theories fail to predict patterns in spider ballooning using wind alone as the driver".

"We wanted to find out whether there were other external forces as well as aerodynamic drag that could trigger ballooning and what sensory system they might use to detect this stimulus". Prof. Robert also works at the University's School of Biological Sciences. They launch from the ground by raising their abdomen to the sky, spinning off 7-13 foot long silk parachutes and simply fly.

We have long known that spider silk is an effective insulator of electricity. For example, bumblebees may use them to detect and zero in on flowers. The effect would be even more powerful the higher up into the air the spiders are. Robert exposed Linyphiid spiders to laboratory-controlled e-fields. They were similar to those that exist in the atmosphere.

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It seems that the biggest fear of arachnophobia come true - spiders can fly. In addition, the specific behaviors in the arachnids, previously associated with the initiation of such a flight, increased significantly with the strength of the e-field.

If you have a grounded sharp object, such as a tree, rising into the APG, the electrical field, or "e-field", around the tree can get quite charged. Humans also can not fly in the air but we developed many other ways to get there and now it seems spiders are also coming close to get in the air.

A better understanding of the mechanisms behind dispersal is important for ecology, i.e., global ecology.

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

Study authors said there is still much to be explored on the topic, including on the physical properties of spider silk. Ballooning spiders can fly hundreds of miles in the air, the familiar reason behind this event is that spiders surf the wind on the strands of silk but according to a new study shared by The Atlantic, other than air there are also some other forces who are playing their role in the flying of spiders.

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