How spiders can fly: Researchers find they make near-invisible paragliders

Can Spiders Actually Fly – New Study Reveals the Unexpected

If you're arachnophobic, I hate to tell you this, but spiders can fly.

Don't panic-it's pretty much only the extra-tiny ones that take flight, which is a behaviour called ballooning.

Spiders also use ballooning to find food, a new home, or a mate and while previous research has examined flying in spiders before, this new study is the first of its kind to make detailed measurements of the silk fibers that ballooning spiders spin out and use to catch the wind.

A spider lifts off with its self-spun silk parachute.

Many kinds of spiders have been found almost three miles in the air and can travel hundreds of miles using their paraglider.

Moonsung Cho, an aerodynamics engineer at the Technical University of Berlin studied crab spiders. The scientist placed them on a small structure resembling a dome to see how they react to wind.

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Once the silks are up, the spider lets go of their anchor strands and fly away.

These flying spiders could measure the speed and direction of the wind by raising their front legs. That's the spider equivalent of licking your finger and sticking it in the air. The spiders spin two of the thick fiber and 50 to 60 of the thin one, which is enough to lift up heavier spiders - with the proper wind conditions. They are also now planning a move to a small cabin they hand built. An average crab spider is about 5 millimeters long so a fairly decent size for a flying animal. "It gives you a deeper appreciation for how spiders have evolved to do this feat-they're literally sailing through the air", she said, as reported by the website.

From the physics perspective, this flight method works for spiders thanks to the air's viscosity compared to the extreme thinness of their silks. The silk threads are 200 nanometers across - 500 times thinner than a human hair. The last thing the spider has to do is to release the anchor strand, which allows the silk to leave the creature into the sky.

On a lighter note, another research from Binghamton University, State University of NY has recently showed that fine fibers like spider silk actually improve the quality of microphones for hearing aids since sensing fluctuating airflow with spider silk should lead to better microphones. Spider silk is made of protein and is energetically expensive to make; the arachnids wouldn't want to waste it.

A new study on these tiny arachnid aviators revealed that crab spiders actually sense weather conditions and have learned to use the wind to their advantage.

Large crab spiders were used for the study, and the researchers conducted a series of field observations as well as wind tunnel experiments to better understand how these spiders prep for their launch and sense meteorological conditions.



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