Spiders Can Fly By Using 10-Foot Silk Parachutes

Posted: Jun 17 2018, 11:09am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 17 2018, 11:55am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Spiders can Fly by Using 10-Foot Silk Parachutes
Credit: PLoS Biology

A new study explains ballooning behavior in large spiders

Many types of spiders float in the air. Using a technique called ballooning, they release silk strands and move through the air. Although spiders’ ballooning technique has been studied before, its physical mechanism is still unclear. A new study, however, provides a detailed look at their sensing behavior and the silk fibers that lift them up. The combination allows small airborne spiders to travel hundreds of kilometers and reach as high as 4.5 km above sea level.

For the study, researchers observed crab spiders. Crab spiders (Xysticus species) are about 5 mm long and weigh up to 25 milligrams. These spiders were chosen because they are some of the heaviest spiders to display this behavior.

By combining field observations and results from wind tunnel experiments, researchers found that large crab spiders check wind conditions by repeatedly raising one or both front legs. The process continues until spiders accurately sense the wind conditions. When the spiders are finally ready to lift off, they raise their abdomens and spin out dozens of nanoscale fibers up to ten feet long. Together, they look like a thin, silky parachute. Researchers found that a single spider releases up to 60 fibers but they are just 200 nanometers in diameter. These fibers differed from a dragline and are produced by a separate silk gland. If the wind condition changes, the spider cut the silk fibers and spun them again.

"The pre-flight behaviors we observed suggest that crab spiders are evaluating meteorological conditions before their takeoff," said Moonsung Cho from Technische Universität in Berlin. "Ballooning is likely not just a random launch into the wind, but one that occurs when conditions most favor a productive journey."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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