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It was over a 180 years ago that Charles Darwin, the father of the modern theory of evolution, first mused that spiders used electricity to fly miles from the nearest land. Now researchers at the University of Bristol have finally proven Darwin’s Theory to be true. Spiders being found high up is not a new thing. It is via a process called ballooning which allows spiders to travel over thousands of miles. They do this by sending up long lines of silk and throwing it at the right time for the spider to catch the air.
Now it is believed that electricity plays a major part in why spiders can stay in the air when there is no breeze or why their silk lines do not tangle. Sensory biophysicist Erica Morley and Daniel Robert conducted the initial study that proved the theory.
“When one thinks of airborne organisms, spiders do not usually come to mind,” Morley and Robert wrote in the summary of their paper. “However, these wingless arthropods have been found 4 km up in the sky, dispersing hundreds of kilometers.”
“It is reasonable to surmise that if e-fields are ecologically relevant, spiders should be able to detect and respond to an E-field by changing their behavior to engage in ballooning,” the paper stated.
The experiment used Linyphiid spiders which were placed in a box with no electrical currents or very limited air flow. When they turned on the electrical current, which was similar to what is found in the atmosphere. The spiders began the process of ballooning and began to float into the air. They then turned off the electrical current and the spiders slowly glided back down to the ground. This was used to prove that electricity had a major part in the ability of the spiders to balloon and stay in the air with minimum air flow.
“We don’t yet know whether electric fields are required to allow spider ballooning,” Moley Said. “We do, however, know that they are sufficient.”