"We don't yet know whether electric fields are required to allow spider ballooning", Erica Morley from the University of Bristol explains in a statement. She confirmed what Darwin noted centuries ago after watching hundreds of spiders flying across the ocean for 60 miles. 'How can spiders fly, ' Charles Darwin often asked himself.
What one might consider final confirmation of the theory would that when an e-filed was induced in this utterly windless environment, the spiders actually began ballooning. Thunderstorms tap the energy of the Earth's atmospheric potential gradient (APG), the field of electricity that lies between the surface and the solar-irradiated ionosphere, to sustain an electrical charge stable enough to provide the needed lift, evidently cuing the spiders when it's time to deploy their silk-spun balloons.
Ballooning spider showing a tiptoe stance on a daisy. It looks like the insects fly through a process similar to checking the wind.
An easy explanation is that the wind simply carried the "balloon" away, but as the Atlantic notes, this makes little sense since spiders only take to the air during gentle winds.
Two biologists from the University of Bristol in England believe they have solved the mystery.
"Many spiders balloon using multiple strands of silk that splay out in a fan-like shape, which suggests that there must be a repelling electrostatic force involved". Daniel Robert wrote about their study and findings in the journal Current Biology. Prof. Robert also works at the University's School of Biological Sciences.
The phenomenon of spiders seemingly floating for long distances isn't new. For example, bumblebees can detect electric fields arising between themselves and flowers, and honeybees can use their charge to communicate with the hive.
We have long known that spider silk is an effective insulator of electricity. "We do, however, know that they are sufficient". But we're still holding our breath for the discovery that'll show us how to shoot silk from our wrists so we can catch some air of our own. It is about to take off, i.e., become airborne. In other words, when the e-field was on, the spiders flew upward, but when they were off, they came down. At the moment, scientists were able to prove the hypothesis that spiders can fly using electricity. This, in turn, eliminated air currents and other electric fields beside the experimental e-field.
If the science behind the finding is too sticky a technical web to unweave, the proof's in the viewing, as this insane video, which shows how vital electricity is to making the whole endeavor a success, reveals.
These new findings can help scientists more accurately predict ballooning behavior in spiders as well as other animals who exhibit the ability such as caterpillars and spider mites.
An improved understanding of the mechanisms behind dispersal are important for global ecology as they can lead to better descriptions of population dynamics, species distributions and ecological resilience.