Do spiders freak you out or do you love those leggy arachnids (that’s the scientific name for spiders)? Whether you find spiders fascinating or frightful, these eight-legged wonders are capable of some pretty amazing feats. Some spiders can walk on water, some can live underwater but one talent that really blows my mind is the ability of some to soar on the wind using their silk threads as a sort of parachute! How cool is that?! Soaring spiders have been found as high in the sky as jet airplanes and have even been found to cross entire ocean basins! How do they do that?
Researchers have recently discovered that ballooning spiders can sense changes in invisible electrical fields that occur when the weather changes!! Weather shifts can signal a good time to travel. Turns out these changing electrical fields provide spiders a little launch boost.
Remember the electrical force you feel between the positive and negative sides of a magnet? Well, Earth’s atmosphere has a positive charge that gets more intense depending on the weather. The ground however has a negative charge. Spider silk picks up a tiny negative charge that repels the ground. That force can help boost the spider from the ground into the positive atmosphere. Woweee!!
There seems to be no end to the fantastic hidden talents of animals!
Spiders have thousands of little hairs all over their bodies. Those hairs detect tiny currents of air and sound. Scientists hypothesized that maybe these spiders also had special hairs that could sense electrical currents too! (Long ago the famous biologist, Charles Darwin, first proposed this as a possibility.) So they put this idea to the test—using lasers!
The scientists shone laser light onto the hairs of some spiders as they turned on and off an electric field surrounding the spiders. If the electric field was being sensed by the spider, it would wiggle its hairs. And if the individual hairs moved in response, the laser light would reflect back a different color and that color change could be measured. And that’s just what happened. The scientists found that certain hairs moved in direct response to the electric fields. Plus the spiders did a little tiptoe dance and stuck their abdomens into the air–something they only do when preparing for take-off. Pretty neat huh?