Spiders Use Atmospheric Electricity to Fly Hundreds of Miles | Biology

Christopher Davidson
July 11, 2018

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. She confirmed what Darwin noted centuries ago after watching hundreds of spiders flying across the ocean for 60 miles.

It has been observed that spiders use silk to "float" through the air.

Lead researcher Morley pointed out that spiders aren't the only invertebrates to balloon. It looks like the insects fly through a process similar to checking the wind.

But that doesn't explain how spiders take flight on rainy or non-windy days with low aerodynamic drag.

Two biologists from the University of Bristol in England believe they have solved the mystery.

The researchers concluded that electrostatic forces are enough to make spiders fly - but the arachnids probably use both methods at once. Prof. Robert also works at the University's School of Biological Sciences.

Spiders fly by letting out silk and floating away.

There is a global electric circuit we call APG. The presence of an electric field in the atmosphere is what matters the most. For example, bumblebees can detect electric fields arising between themselves and flowers, and honeybees can use their charge to communicate with the hive. APG is also known to interact with lifeforms (most often more stationary organisms such as plants) to form more personal "e-fields" for the living being.

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Clearly the spiders were able to sense the local electrostatic field and respond appropriately by releasing silk, but Morley and Robert wanted to know how. The only time spiders tiptoe like this is just before they balloon. It is about to take off, i.e., become airborne.

How a spider may perceive the e-field of an oak tree. When it was switched off, they came down.

This upward-downward response proves that spiders can fly even when there is no wind. However, electric fields are crucial for the operation, since the ballooning behaviour can only be emerged by electric fields.

And when the spiders did balloon and rise into the air, turning off the electric current caused them to drop. "Caterpillars and spider mites, which are arachnids but not spiders, balloon as well".

The authors added that they need to study this phenomenon further.

The study indicates that spiders are capable of detecting these e-fields, as well as APG in general, and of judging the optimal points for a ballooning take-off. "We also hope to carry out further investigations into the physical properties of ballooning silk and carry out ballooning studies in the field", said Morley.

We're pretty sure Peter Parker would keep a poker face if the question were put to him, but after seeing a new report that unveils the secret to real-world spiders' mind-boggling ability to traverse miles and miles on nothing more than an electrical charge and a wisp of silk, we're really wondering: Does Spider-Man owe his parkour prowess to something as pedestrian as physics?

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