It’s not like spiders were not terrifying enough, but a lot of people have probably noticed that they sometimes seem to have the ability to fly. Well, thanks to a new study, which the journal PLOS Biology recently published, we now know how they are able to do it. They do not just spin out one or two silk fibers to catch the wind. Instead, it seems that spiders are able to build “paragliders” from a large number of silk fibers.
According to aerodynamic engineer Moonsung Cho, these thin fibers are almost invisible to the naked human eye, hence the reason why experts have not been able to explain this flight of the so-called “ballooning” spiders. There are, in fact, a lot of species that are able to “fly” like this. Thanks to these “paragliders”, they are capable of travelling hundreds of kilometers with the wind. These arachnids are usually the first species to reach new and undiscovered islands. Moreover, some spider species are even able to windsurf or glide. When it came to baby spiders, they are taking flight in order to avoid being eaten by their bigger relatives. But the way in which bigger spiders are able to fly was a mystery. Until now.
How “ballooning” spiders fly
So, in order to solve this riddle, Cho and his colleagues analyzed this “ballooning” technique in some adult ground crab spiders. After raising some specimens in the lab, they watched them take flight in a wind tunnel. By the looks of it, arachnids are skilled aviators. They first anchor themselves on the ground with a safety fiber. Then, they test the wind and if everything is right, they spin out these fibers that can be 2 to 4 meters long. They form triangular sheets which help them obtain this “ballooning” effect. If everything goes well, the spiders immediately cut off the anchor and fly.
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