Ballooning Spiders – Some Sure Love To Do It!

ballooning spiders

A spider preparing to balloon. Photo via Flickr.

Ballooning spiders seems like some new adventure sport, but it is just life.  Many spiders balloon or fly in order to travel through the air.

I remember first hearing about ballooning spiders as a child when I read Charlottes Web.  At the time I was a bit curious about what exactly the book was talking about, but I soon forgot about it.  Well, recently I began thinking about it again and researched it.  Here is a brief explanation about how and why spiders fly.

What Exactly Is Ballooning Spiders?

This is the simplest of these questions to answer.  Ballooning spiders simply means that the spiders fly or float through the air.  Spiders climb to a high perch, such as a tall grass or the top of a fence.  Then they stick their buts up and send out one or multiple strands of silk high into the air.  Finally, they simply float away into the air.

ballooning spiders

The ground covered in spider webs after ballooning spiders landed. Photo via Flickr.

Why Do Spiders Fly or Balloon?

Spiders are born in an egg sac.  After they are born they will balloon away in order to disperse to a new location where they can live.  This is somewhat similar to how new seeds for a plant will disperse in order to give the new plant a better chance at survival.

Spiders can balloon or fly in the air for short distances of five to ten feet or sometimes up to hundreds of miles.  Once they are airborne they unfortunately have little control over where they are going.  The famous naturalist, Charles Darwin, once found that his ship was covered in tiny spiders that had ballooned out to sea and landed on his ship that was 60 miles away from land.

ballooning spiders

A great photo showing a spider ballooning through the air. You can see the silk thread going up towards the top of the photo. Photo via Flickr.

Ballooning Spiders – How Do They Do That?

This is a good question and one that has not been fully answered.  Up until the past few years it was assumed that the spiders silk strands simply caught the air currents.  Supposedly the air blew the spiders this way and that.

Another possible explanation is by thermal currents.  As air warms up it rises.  This is how many soaring birds are able to soar at such high altitudes with little effort.

Recently, a scientist did some initial research and thinks that it is not just air currents, but is in fact also due to electrostatic force.  I am no scientist and am not entirely clear how this works.  But, my understanding is that somehow the spiders silk thread that shoots up acquires a negative charge.  Then that charge is repelled by the positive charge in the surrounding air, which moves it along through the air.

However they do it, by air or thermal currents or electrostatic charges, it is an amazing feat.