Spiders Wove Web Balloons to Fly Away From a Flood

June 10, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Spider web ballooning
Photo credit: Stephen Michael Barnett/flickr (CC BY 2.0). A mass ballooning event from 2007.

A daring escape.

Flooding in some parts of Australia last weekend left residents scrambling to stay dry.

Meanwhile, spiders in Launceston, Tasmania, took to the treetops where they masterfully wove an enormous web, covering almost 800 meters of canopy.

Graham Milledge, the collection manager in arachnology at the Australian Museum, told the Guardian that the spiders had orchestrated a “mass ballooning event.” Tens of thousands of spiders converged on the few remaining dry spots in the region, forming a thick net where they landed.

To escape by this method, spiders shoot threads into the air, hoping the breeze will catch and carry them to higher ground. “It’s a way of dispersing — their way of flying, if you like,” said Milledge.

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But fortune may not have favored these daring spiders. Images of tangled silk sheets coating the treetops in Launceston attest to a possible failed attempt at ballooning away.

Local resident Ken Puccetti, who captured the photographs, told Guardian Australia the silk was so dense that his attempts to photograph the web ended with his shoes, legs, and arms covered with silk — and the occasional spider.

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Editor's note (June 13): Article has been updated to reduce confsion over the term "ballooning." Spiders release individual threads that catch the wind, incidentally forming a large net when they all land at the same site.

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