Some tiny spiders can use their silk strands to surf on the wind. Now scientists are beginning to understand how they do it. Research from the Technical University of Berlin shows how these tiny spiders measure the wind and secure themselves before launching into the breeze.
Many species of spider exhibit this kind of parachuting/windsurfing behavior, which is properly called “ballooning.” Young spiders, born in nests of hundreds or thousands, use this technique to spread over a larger area. While scientists have known that ballooning exists for decades, the exact mechanism spiders use has been something of a mystery.
Researcher Moonsung Cho studied one of these species, the crab spider. Crab spiders are one of the largest species that exhibit ballooning behavior, which makes them one of the easiest to study. Cho put some spiders on an outdoor mound during a windy day to observe how they went about flying away.
The experiment paid off, as Cho got some impeccable footage of these spiders ballooning. His research shows that when spiders prepare to take off, they first secure themselves to the ground with a few strands of silk. Then, they test the winds by lifting one arm into the air.
Finally, when the spider is ready to take off, it releases about 50 tiny strands of silk. These strands stay attached to the spider and act as a kind of sail, ready to buoy the spider to lands unknown. When a particularly strong gust comes along, the spider lets go of its anchor strands and flies away.
Previously Published by: Popular Mechanics USA