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article imageAustralian town caught up in curious 'spider rain' phenomenon

By Karen Graham     May 17, 2015 in Environment
Goulburn - Millions of tiny spiders began raining down on a town in New South Wales, Australia a few days ago, almost blotting out the sun and covering everything with their mounds of silken parachutes. Residents didn't know what to think of the "spider rain."
We all know what it means when someone tells us it's "raining cats and dogs," but raining spiders? A few people in the Southern Tablelands town of Goulburn though they were being invaded by the tiny spiders while another resident reported his home was covered in the webs. But few people realize the phenomenon is not that unusual.
Resident Ian Watson said his house looked like it had been taken over by the creepy-crawly little spiders. "The whole place was covered in these little black spiderlings and when I looked up at the sun it was like this tunnel of webs going up for a couple of hundred meters into the sky."
It wasn t the best time to take the dogs for a walk.
It wasn't the best time to take the dogs for a walk.
The event that recently occurred in Australia is known as "spider rain," or to some people, as "angel hair" because of the silken threads left behind. And this angel hair can cover everything. But a natural occurrence? Well, yes, say experts in spiders, known as arachnologists.
A spider's mode of transportation
Retired arachnologist, Rick Vetter, with the University of California, Riverside, said what the residents of Goulburn were seeing was a form of spider transportation called "ballooning."
"Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders. They climb some high area and stick their butts up in the air and release silk. Then they just take off," Vetter told Live Science. "This is going on all around us all the time. We just don’t notice it."
There really were millions of the little spiderlings.
There really were millions of the little spiderlings.
The reason this phenomenon is not witnessed more is because it isn't common for millions of spiders to do this all at the same time, landing in the same place. Todd Blackledge, a biology professor at the University of Akron in Ohio explained this to Live Science: "In these kinds of events [spider rains], what's thought to be going on is that there's a whole cohort of spiders that's ready to do this ballooning dispersal behavior, but for whatever reason, the weather conditions haven't been optimal and allowed them to do that. But then the weather changes, and they have the proper conditions to balloon, and they all start to do it," Blackledge said.
So this mode of transportation is necessary for young spiderlings to leave the home hearth and venture out into the world. It's just that most of the time, we don't notice it. This is why spiders have been able to reach every continent on Earth, yes, even Antarctica. But they don't live in those cold environs very long.
More about Spiders, raining spiders, Australia, angel hair, parachutes
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