Our beautiful planet: Blanketing a town in spider silk

Beautiful – or an arachnophobe’s nightmare? Either way, reams of spider silk covering an Australian town was an unusual and arresting sight.

For some, the swathes of spider silk blanketing fields turned landscapes into beautiful snow-like scenes; for arachnophobes, it looked more like a living nightmare.

Nature and Environment | 26.04.2018

This is what confronted residents in Wagga Wagga in eastern Australia after floodwaters swept through the town in 2012 following a week of record rain.

Australien Spinnenwebe nach Überflutungen in Wagga Wagga (2012)

As the floods came in, the spiders moved upwards

Not only were thousands of people forced to flee their homes because of the floods – but masses of the ground-dwelling spiders also had to evacuate to higher ground.

To escape, the fleeing creatures – a type of wolf spider – can produce an individual strand of silk to catch the wind like a parachute.

Nature and Environment | 15.08.2018

This allows them to fly up and away into the air to travel over long distances, in what is called "ballooning."

Australien Spinnenwebe nach Überflutungen in Wagga Wagga (2012)

The spiders produce silk while 'ballooning' away to escape

So the huge blanket of silk was the result of the spiders all trying to balloon away from the flooding en masse – earlier reports of webs covering fields were inaccurate, because wolf spiders don't produce webs.

Unlike other spiders, which make webs to catch prey, wolf spiders instead run and pounce on their victims.

Australien Spinnenwebe nach Überflutungen in Wagga Wagga (2012)

Wolf spiders are usually solitary creatures

This kind of wolf spider, which measures up to 1cm long, is considered relatively harmless and is usually very solitary – but the extreme flooding forced them to all escape together and therefore come into close contact with another.

There are thought to be 130 species of wolf spider in Australia alone. But sights like the one produced in Wagga Wagga in 2012 are rare.


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