Science

Spiders can fly by weaving 10-foot-long silk parachutes to float through the air




Spiders don't have wings to fly, but some can weave 10-foot-long silk parachutes to float through the air, researchers recently discovered.

Crab spiders, which are about 5 millimeters long and can change color, were observed checking the wind, raising their abdomen and spinning 7- to 13-foot-long silk parachutes, according to an observational study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Biology. These spiders seem like expert fliers, too. 

"If the wind condition was not appropriate, the spider cut the silk fibers and spun them again," the study states. "If the ballooning silks generated enough drag, the spider released the substrate and became airborne."

The spiders can reach speeds of about 7.3 miles per hour.

"The mysterious flying behavior" can be explained by the spider's silk, comprised of "nanoscale multifibers." Spiders weave together a thick fiber and a thin fiber to create a custom material for the day's wind conditions. 

Reasons for travel? Parachuting spiders might be looking for a good place to eat, love or a new place to call home. 

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The observational study was conducted using 14 spiders in Germany every October from 2014 to 2016. Spiders are most likely to "balloon" through the air in late spring and autumn seasons, the study notes.

It's unclear how the fibers avoid entanglement once in the air, especially alongside other spiders. 

Previous research has shown spiders can really hold their on in the air — even without weaving a silk net. A study published in 2015 suggested spiders can safely free fall and even "hang-glide."  

Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

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