|Fields are covered in spiderwebs amid rising floodwaters in Wagga Wagga. Photo: Reuters|
May 16, 2015 – AUSTRALIA – Millions of baby spiders appeared to be raining from the sky in the Southern Tablelands earlier this month, with one astonished local fearing the region had been “invaded by spiders” and another reporting his home was “covered” in the creatures.
Goulburn resident Ian Watson said his house looked like it had been “abandoned and taken over by spiders”.
“The whole place was covered in these little black spiderlings and when I looked up at the sun it was like this tunnel of webs going up for a couple of hundred metres into the sky.”
It was beautiful, he said. “But at the same time I was annoyed because … you couldn’t go out without getting spider webs on you. And I’ve got a beard as well, so they kept getting in my beard.”
Watson took to Facebook to confirm he wasn’t the only one getting rained on by tiny black spiders. “Anyone else experiencing … millions of spiders falling from the sky right now?” he wrote on the town’s community Facebook page.
“I’m 10 minutes out of town and you can clearly see hundreds of little spiders floating along with their webs and my home is covered in them. Someone call a scientist!”
Naturalist Martyn Robinson from the Australian Museum said two migration techniques associated with spiders would explain why locals might have thought it was raining spiders.
The first, a dispersal technique called “ballooning”, is more commonly used by baby spiders, although some adults use it as well. The spider climbs to the top of vegetation and releases a streamer of silk that catches on the breeze and carries the spider aloft.
Spiders have been caught flying like this up to three kilometres above the ground, Robinson said.
“They can literally travel for kilometres … which is why every continent has spiders. Even in Antarctica they regularly turn up but just die,” he said.
|Paddocks in Albury show the extent of the ‘spider rain’. Photo: Keith Basterfield|
“That’s also why the first land animals to arrive on new islands formed by volcanic activity are usually spiders.”
In some years, the mass migration of baby spiders means “you can have entire fields and paddocks and trees festooned with this gossamer or Angel Hair, as some people call it,” he said.
Gossamer is a non-adhesive silk that snags easily, one of nine different kinds of silks produced by spiders.
South Australian retiree Keith Basterfield has been tracking Angel Hair events since 2001 and appealed via the Goulburn Post for anyone who had witnessed last month’s event to contact him.
He has since heard from two residents.
“Around the 27th April we experienced this and thought we were been invaded by spiders for two days,” wrote one woman, who said she lived 30 kilometres from Yass.
“[E]very time I’d walk outside my feet would get covered in very fine cobweb-like substance and the clothes line and clothes were absolutely entangled in it.”
Another woman said she was sitting on the front verandah on May 4 when she saw what looked like lots of silk thread “floating through the sky.”
“It lasted for at least 30 mins. It was quite amazing,” she wrote.
The second phenomenon linked to angel hair, which can occur at the same time as ballooning, usually happens after heavy rains or floods.
“When the ground gets waterlogged, the spiders that live either on the surface of the ground or in burrows in the ground, come up into the foliage to avoid drowning,” Robinson said.
Much like baby spiders searching for a new home, these ground spiders throw silk “snag lines” up into the air and when they catch, use these to haul themselves up and out of the water.
|A home surrounded by spiderwebs as floodwaters rise around Wagga Wagga in 2012. Photo: Reuters|
The Angel Hair effect can be particularly dramatic after floods, when masses of spiders are using the same silk “roads” to escape, he said.
“Everywhere a spider goes it leaves a trail of silk … so if they use somebody else’s silk line, they put their silk line over that,” Robinson said.
“You end up with thick silk roads … criss-crossing finer silk lines to produce this interwoven shroud.”
He emphasised that it was unlikely any of the species of spiders involved in these phenomena were harmful. “There’s nothing to worry about … They’ll all disperse once the weather conditions warm up.” – SMH.