Ballooning Spiders

It’s an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare. Thousands of tiny spiders flying through the air, carried by the ¬†wind to mercilessly attack all those who cross their path. They travel with one purpose in mind – our destruction. Ok, so I was joking about spiders hellbent on our destruction, but believe it or not some spiders are capable of aerial locomotion. They employ a technique known as ballooning to be picked up by and travel on air currents. While it is possible for these currents to carry the spiders for miles, many ballooning excursions are over after a hundred yards so.

Generally, baby spiders are the only ones to balloon. This is primarily due to their small size and weight which can be easily moved by a stiff breeze. Most spiders usually take off a short time after hatching, ranging from a few hours to a couple of days. They will climb as high as they can and begin to release strands of silk into the breeze.

Spider releasing silk

Eventually the wind will pick them up and begin to carry them away. Once in the air, some species of spiders will try to control their flight paths by reeling in or letting out more silk while others simply go with the flow.

It is not entirely certain why some spiders balloon and others do not, but it is believe that ballooning is possibly a method of dispersion and population control. In the same way that plants have their seed dispersed so that the young do not overcrowd the old, the young spiders must move out so they do not compete with the others for resources.

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3 Comments

Sam Charny posted on November 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm

So I’m a little confused. How exactly does this method of flight work? What role does the web play in controlling flight and what exactly is ballooning?

Lorena Barba posted on December 1, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Hi Sam – They use the term “ballooning” in analogy of the means of travel by hot air balloon. There is no balloon here, but the spider is hanging from the threads of spider web it spits out in the air. The threads are carried by the wind, and the spider along with it.

Lorena Barba posted on December 1, 2011 at 6:11 pm

For reference, here is EK131 student Nathan Thompson’s post on the same topic:
http://blogs.bu.edu/biolocomotion/2011/10/02/ballooning-with-the-stegodyphus-spider/