WATCH: Ballooning spiders use electric fields to fly


Erica Morley and Daniel Robet at the University of Bristol found that spiders can sense the Earth’s electric field, and use it to launch themselves into the air.

The mention of spiders elicits a number of feelings depending on the person you’re talking to. People tend to think of them as scary, creepy, annoying, and sometimes dangerous. All four when they live in Australia. However, not only are spiders beneficial for human ecosystems, they’re also cool as hell.

It was previously thought that some spiders could fly via a process of ballooning that involved ejecting silk that would get caught by the wind, but scientists at the University of Bristol found out a much more incredible truth behind the flying arachnids.

Morley and Robert showed that spiders can detect electric fields. When spiders’ silk exits their bodies, it picks up a negative charge. This repels the negative charges on the surfaces that the spiders sit on, in turn generating enough force to lift them into the air. The tips of leaves, twigs, and blade of grass also have negative charges on them, so spiders can use them to increase the force of their lift even more.

The experiments the scientists performed involved the spiders actually taking off inside plastic boxes with no airflow, which disproved initial theories of them using the wind to balloon. When they switched off the electric fields inside the boxes, the spiders dropped from the air.

So spiders might be creepy, and flying spiders that can detect electric fields might be even creepier, but there’s no doubt that spiders are one of the most awesome creepy crawlies around.

 

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A. Jama

Jama is a researcher in biochemistry and molecular biology, with a focus on metabolism and cancer. You can find him on twitter discussing a broad range of topics, from US politics to Game of Thrones. He also has the best memes.

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