Friday, 6 July 2018

Electric Spiders

Research from Bristol University appears to have solved the puzzle of 'ballooning' in spiders (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jul/05/research-sheds-light-on-mystery-of-how-spiders-take-flight). Tiny spiders have been recorded flying on strands of silk tens of miles out to sea and high in the atmosphere. It was postulated that this distribution mechanism could involve simply 'catching the wind' with extruded silk or might involve the spider's strands becoming electrostatically charged, enabling them to 'ride' the natural (varying with weather conditions) electric fields in the atmosphere. The Bristol study involved transporting spiders to a Faraday cage (insulated from atmospheric changes but where currents can be changed). There, the spiders showed an increased tendency to attempt flight from elevated surfaces (by rapidly extruding silk from their spinnerets) when the charge was high. Study with lasers also suggested that ballooning spiders use tiny leg hairs to detect and utilise the electric fields. Darwin would have been pleased although he might have been irritated by the repeated suggestion in the news article that spiders are insects.

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