We Regret To Inform You That Spiders Can Fly
Spiders can fly on invisible electric fields, new study finds.
As if you didn't already have enough to worry about, now you've got to contend with flying spiders.
Sorry to inform you.
Unfortunately it seems that our eight-legged friends can fly through the air on silk 'sails', releasing a bunch of web into the air until they are carried away on electric fields.
"These wingless arthropods have been found 4 km up in the sky, dispersing hundreds of kilometers," read one particularly horrifying passage in a new study from researchers at the University of Bristol, published on Friday in the Current Biology journal.
It's a phenonemon known as "ballooning" where the spider is lifted into the air as if being carried away by a helium balloon. The bizarre and terrifying behaviour has been documented since at least the 1600s, with many thinking simply that the silk is picked up by breeze, similar to a sail, carrying the spider along with it.
Here's some footage to give you some nightmares:
But the University of Bristol study concluded there was a more complicated potential explanation -- that in fact the spiders can actually surf along invisible electricity waves in the air.
"We don't yet know whether electric fields are required to allow spider ballooning," said author Erica Morley.
"We do, however, know that they are sufficient."
Experiments found a significant increase in ballooning behaviour when scientists turned on electric fields in the lab. Researchers concluded that spiders can detect and use the atmospheric potential gradient -- "an electric circuit between the Earth and the ionosphere that is maintained by thunderstorms" -- to become airborne, even without air flow or wind present.
"Once the spiders were airborne, switching the electric field on and off led them to move upward or downward, respectively," researchers said.
It was also found that the tiny hairs on spiders' bodies, known as trichobothria, can detect the electric fields.
"There are days when many thousands of spiders take to the air in mass ballooning events and days when none disperse at all," researchers said.
"The new findings suggest that variation in the APG might explain those behaviors and help to predict when they will occur, not only in spiders, but also in other ballooning animals, including caterpillars and spider mites."
So there you go, some good news for your Friday -- thousands of spiders flying around on invisible magnetic fields. Have a great day.