Nightmare Fuel! Spiders Use Electricity To Fly... On Purpose

Friday, 06 July 2018 - 12:11PM
Friday, 06 July 2018 - 12:11PM
Nightmare Fuel! Spiders Use Electricity To Fly... On Purpose
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Pixabay Composite

If you suffer from arachnophobia and clicked on this story anyway, go ahead and add agoraphobia to the list while you set up Amazon Prime Now – because you'll never want to leave your home again.

A group of scientists led by sensory biophysicist Erica Morley at the University of Bristol recently published research regarding spiders and other animals who are able to sail through the air. According to their findings, spiders and other "ballooning" creatures use electrostatic forces to gain altitude – not wind energy. This means that, breeze or no breeze, there could be spiders floating over your head right this very moment.

You're welcome.

When Darwin wrote down his observations of hundreds of spiders using silks to land on the HMS Beagle one day at sea, he suspected that electricity played a role; others thought the eight-legged creatures were just amazing gliders. Neither side had any evidence to support their claims at the time, but we've made a few strides in the study of electric fields since the 1800s.

Using Linyphiid spiders, Morley and her team conducted tests where they observed the spiders' behavior both with and without electrical fields comparable to the charges found in Earth's atmosphere. When the charge was introduced, more spiders were more likely to practice ballooning. In addition, their altitude was controlled by the level of electricity in the air. To help explain how it all works, the University of Bristol created this fun little animation:

"Dispersal is a crucial part of ecology and ballooning is one mode of dispersal," Erica Morley told Motherboard. In concluding their research, the authors added that "understanding the mechanisms that underpin dispersal is crucial for describing biomass and gene flow, population dynamics, species distributions, and ecological resilience to stochastic changes."

But you probably didn't hear anything after the "spiders use electricity to fly and are probably overhead right now" bit.

If it makes you feel any better (and it probably won't), spiders in the Linyphiidae family are small and include the bowl and doily spiders, which are more interested in weaving lacy webs to catch insects – not preying on humans from above.

Science News