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Ballooning (spider)

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Ballooning, sometimes called kiting, is a process by which spiders, and some other small invertebrates, move through the air by releasing one or more gossamer threads to catch the wind, causing them to become airborne at the mercy of air currents This is primarily used by spiderlings to disperse; however, larger individuals have been observed doing so as well The spider climbs to a high point and takes a stance with its abdomen to the sky, releasing fine silk threads from its spinneret until it becomes aloft Journeys achieved vary from a few metres to hundreds of kilometres Even atmospheric samples collected from balloons at five kilometres altitude and ships mid-ocean have reported spider landings Mortality is high


  • 1 Description
  • 2 Distance and height achieved
  • 3 See also
  • 4 References
  • 5 Further reading


Play media Xysticus audax tiptoeing, in preparation for ballooning

Ballooning is a behaviour in which spiders and some other invertebrates use airborne dispersal to move between locations A spider usually limited to individuals of a small species, or spiderling after hatching, will climb as high as it can, stand on raised legs with its abdomen pointed upwards "tiptoeing", and then release several silk threads from its spinnerets into the air These automatically form a triangular shaped parachute which carries the spider away on updrafts of winds where even the slightest of breezes will disperse the arachnid The Earth's static electric field may also provide lift in windless conditions

Many spiders use especially fine silk called gossamer to lift themselves off a surface, and silk also may be used by a windblown spider to anchor itself to stop its journey The term "gossamer" is used metaphorically for any exceedingly fine thread or fabric Biologists also apply the term "balloon silk" to the threads that mechanically lift and drag systems

It is generally thought that most spiders heavier than 1 mg are unlikely to use ballooning Because many individuals die during ballooning, it is less likely that adults will balloon compared to spiderlings However, adult females of several social Stegodyphus species S dumicola and S mimosarum weighing more than 100 mg and with a body size of up to 14 millimetres 055 in have been observed ballooning using rising thermals on hot days without wind These spiders use tens to hundreds of silk strands, which form a triangular sheet with a length and width of about 1 metre 39 in

In Australia, in 2012 and in May 2015, millions of spiders were reported to have ballooned into the air, making the ground where they landed seem snow-covered with their silk

Distance and height achieved

Threads of silk following a mass spider ballooning

Most ballooning journeys end after just a few meters of travel, although depending on the spider's mass and posture, a spider might be taken up into a jet stream The trajectory further depends on the convection air currents and the drag of the silk and parachute to float and travel high up into the upper atmosphere

Many sailors have reported spiders being caught in their ship's sails over 1,600 kilometres 990 mi from land Heimer 1988 They have even been detected in atmospheric data balloons collecting air samples at slightly less than 5 kilometres 16,000 ft above sea level Evidently, ballooning is the most common way for spiders to invade isolated islands and mountaintops Spiderlings are known to survive without food while travelling in air currents of jet streams for 25 days or longer

Some mites and some caterpillars also use silk to disperse through the air

A close association has been found between ballooning behaviors and the ability for a species of spiders to survive afloat on water Water-repellent legs keep them alive on both fresh and salt water, enabling them to survive waves up to 05 millimetres in height In wind many species raised their legs or abdomens to use as sails, propelling themselves across the water's surface Many species of spiders also drop silk to anchor themselves in place while afloat Said spiders did not show these behaviours on land, suggesting that they are adaptations to water

See also

  • Aeroplankton
  • "A Noiseless Patient Spider", a poem by Walt Whitman based on spider ballooning behaviour
  • Organisms at high altitude
  • Spider silk


  1. ^ Heinrichs, Ann R 2004 "Spiders" Compass Point Books, Primary School : Nature's Friends series; Minneapolis, Minn ISBN 9780756505905 She observes that the so called ballooning is like a kite
  2. ^ a b Valerio, CE 1977 "Population structure in the spider Achaearranea Tepidariorum Aranae, Theridiidae" PDF Journal of Arachnology 3: 185–190 Archived from the original on July 19, 2011 Retrieved 2009-07-18 CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown link
  3. ^ Bond, JE "Systamatic and Evolution of the Californian trapdoor spider genus Aptostichus Simon Araneae: Mygalomorphae: Euctenizidae" Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 1999 Accessed 2009-07-18
  4. ^ a b Weyman, GS 1995 "Laboratory studies of the factors stimulating ballooning behavior by Linyphiid spiders Araneae, Linyphiidae" PDF Journal of Arachnology 23: 75–84 Retrieved 2009-07-18 
  5. ^ a b c d Schneider, JM; Roos, J; Lubin, Y; Henschel, JR October 2001 "Dispersal of Stegodyphus Dumicola Araneae, Eresidae: They do balloon after all!" PDF Journal of Arachnology 29 1: 114–116 doi:101636/0161-8202200102920CO;2 Retrieved 2009-07-18 
  6. ^ Gorham, Peter Sep 2013 "Ballooning spiders: The case for electrostatic flight" arXiv:13094731  
  7. ^ Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed: Gossamer, noun and adjective: fine filmy substance, consisting of cobwebs, spun by small spiders, which is seen floating in the air in calm weather, esp in autumn, or spread over a grassy surface: occas with a and pl, a thread or web of gossamer
  8. ^ Suter, RB 1999 "An aerial lottery: The physics of ballooning in a chaotic atmosphere" PDF Journal of Arachnology 27: 281–293 Archived from the original PDF on 2006-02-11 
  9. ^ Dell'Amore, Christine; 18, National Geographic PUBLISHED May "Millions of Spiders Rain Down on Australia—Why" National Geographic News Retrieved 2015-05-19 
  10. ^ Suter, RB 1992 "Ballooning: Data from spiders in freefall indicate the importance of posture" PDF Journal of Arachnology XX: 107–113 Retrieved 2009-07-18 
  11. ^ Greenstone, MH; Morgan, CE; Hultsh, A-L 1987 "Ballooning spiders in Missouri, USA, and New South Wales, Australia: Family and mass distributions" PDF Journal of Arachnology 15: 163–170 Retrieved 2009-07-18 
  12. ^ a b Hormiga, G 2002 "Orsonwells, a new genus of giant linyphild spiders Araneae from the Hawaiian Islands" PDF Invertebrate Systematics 16 3: 369–448 doi:101071/IT01026 Retrieved 2009-07-18 
  13. ^ VanDyk, JK 2002–2009 "Entomology 201 - Introduction to insects" Department of Entomology, Iowa State University Archived from the original on 8 June 2009 Retrieved 18 July 2009 
  14. ^ Bilsing, SW May 1920 "Quantitative studies in the food of spiders" PDF The Ohio Journal of Science 20 7: 215–260 Retrieved 2009-07-18 
  15. ^ Hayashi, Morito; Bakkali, Mohammed; Hyde, Alexander; Goodacre, Sara L 2015-07-03 "Sail or sink: novel behavioural adaptations on water in aerially dispersing species" BMC Evolutionary Biology 15 1: 118 doi:101186/s12862-015-0402-5 ISSN 1471-2148 PMC 4490750  PMID 26138616 
  16. ^ Cressey, Daniel "Airborne Spiders Can Sail on Seas" Nature Retrieved 2015-07-08 
  17. ^ "Flying spiders also sail on water" Nature 523: 130–131 doi:101038/523130d Retrieved 2015-07-09 

Further reading

  • Dean, DA & Sterling, WL 1985: Size of ballooning spiders at two locations in eastern Texas J Arachnol 13: 111–120 PDF
  • Heimer, S 1988: Wunderbare Welt der Spinnen Urania-Verlag Leipzig ISBN 3-332-00210-4

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Ballooning (spider)

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