Ken Puccetti

Australian spiders try to flee floods, cover town with a giant web instead

Classic nightmare material.

JACINTA BOWLER
10 JUN 2016
 

When you and your whole family need to escape flood waters, what do you do? Well if you’re a spider, apparently you cover everything in a thick layer of silk in an attempt to escape the rising waters.

Some parts of Australia has been battling floods the last few days, and in Launceston, Tasmania, it appears the spiders wanted to be evacuated too, judging by crazy photos that have gone viral this week, showing spider escape pods, AKA webs, blanketing a suburb.

 

According to the locals, as Launceston started flooding, thousands of tiny arachnids took to the highest point they could find - the trees - on the outskirts of the city.

Once they made it there, they coated the trees in spider web, covering an area of almost 800 metres long. When local resident Ken Puccetti took the crazy photo above, he said, "My shoes, legs and arms became covered in webs and I had to brush a number of small spiders off." No, thank you!

But what’s actually going on here?

Turns out that the spiders really did just need to escape, and tried to orchestrate a mass ballooning event to get away. Although spiders are mostly happy in their habitats, occasionally they’ll pack up, form a flying web, and spread to a new environment.

In this case, instead of a simple desire for a change of scenery, it was probably in response to the rising flood waters.

 

"It’s a way of dispersing – their way of flying, if you like," said Graham Milledge, collection manager in arachnology at the Australian Museum, to the Sydney Morning Herald. "Spiders are the major insect predator in the environment and events like this show people just how many spiders there are out there."

Well, that’s a scary thought, but spiders are a super-important part of the ecosystem, and when not escaping wild weather, you wouldn’t usually notice the majority of them – which is good for all those arachnophobes out there.

But this even isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. Back in 2015, baby spiders started falling from the sky in Australia, and later that year, the spiders of Dallas, Texas, decided to work together form a huge web for hunting insects (and freak us all out in the process).

Now, before you point out that making a huge web and sticking it to a tree doesn’t seem like a very good way of escaping an area, let’s just say the spiders didn’t exactly plan it that way.

As Michael Greshko from National Geographic explains: "In fact, the sheets of silk coating Launceston’s trees may reflect spiders’ previous failed attempts at ballooning away from the flooding."

"[When faced with] favourable conditions - perhaps warm ground temperatures, which could generate updrafts - the spiders would have tried to send out their ballooning threads at more or less the same time. However, unexpectedly strong breezes could have then blown these threads back down onto the trees repeatedly, eventually creating a tangled mat."

So there you have it. These poor guys didn’t even succeed in their escape.

In good news for the spiders, the flood waters are now receding, so hopefully they can get home and get on with being awesome.

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