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New Research Reveals the Mechanics Behind How Spiders “Balloon”

June 21st, 2018

New Research Reveals the Mechanics Behind How Spiders “Balloon”

Scientists have known about the phenomenon called “ballooning”, a technique used by spiders that allows them to fly, for a while now, but the exact mechanics behind this incredible feat have remained a mystery. Ballooning involves a spider creating a parachute with their webbing, which allows them to catch passing winds with their parachute and use them to fly. This is actually a very important behavior, as it helps the spider species to spread their DNA much faster than they would otherwise. Ballooning gives the spider the ability to quickly find a new place to settle down and find food or lay their eggs. A recent study on ballooning endeavored to finally uncover the mysteries behind this behavior found in spiders that has long been observed but not well understood. Flight is a very complicated action for any creature, involving great attention to detail and skilled maneuvering for those naturally designed to fly let alone animals that weren’t given wings. So, how do spiders, a clearly land-bound creature, pull off this challenging act?

Moonsung Cho from the Technical University of Berlin decided it was about time science figured out this puzzle, and started to do his own research on the phenomenon. To achieve this Cho took 14 crab spiders and placed them outside during a windy day on a mushroom-like structure. This facilitated his ability to observe this phenomenon closely, and study how the spiders build their parachute webs or “balloons” and eventually take flight. Cho specifically chose the crab spider to use in his study because they are among the largest spiders that can “balloon”, and so Cho didn’t need super fancy equipment to study them and still get good footage of the process.

Cho discovered fascinating new details about the behavior of the spider when it s building its balloon. The spiders actually use small bits of webbing to glue their feet to the ground while they are making their balloon, so they don’t accidentally take off too soon. The spiders also all showed an interesting behavior before taking off into the air. The spiders would stick out one leg before launching themselves into the air to check out the winds and make sure they are suitable for flying on. It turns out they will not take off unless the wind speed is less than 7 miles per hour, keeping them safe from any dangerous conditions while paragliding. The balloons themselves were quite thin, made up of only 60 webbing fibers. However, despite their thinness, they can extend up 10 feet in length. That’s some pretty impressive and clever behavior coming from a spider.

Have you ever seen a spider “ballooning”? What did it look like at first and how close were you able to get to the flying spider?

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