By: April Carson
On October 31, 1832, naturalist Charles Darwin boarded the HMS Beagle, and he saw that the ship had been invaded by thousands of marauders. Tiny red spiders were floating all over the place, each about a millimeter in width. Because the ship was 60 nautical miles offshore, the creatures must have floated over from the Argentine mainland. “All of the ropes were covered and fringed with gossamer web,” Darwin noted.
Spiders, despite the fact that they do not have wings, can fly. They'll climb to an exposed point, raise their abdomens to the sky, extrude strands of silk, and float away. Ballooning is a spider activity in which it raises its abdomens to the sky and floats away. It may transport spiders away from predators and competitors, or toward new areas with adequate resources. Whatever the cause, it's unquestionably a method of travel that works. Spiders have been observed to fly up to two and a half miles high and out to sea 1,000 kilometers away.
It's said that ballooning works because the silk catches the wind, pulling the spider with it. However, it doesn't truly make sense because spiders only balloon when there are light winds. Spiders don't shoot silk from their abdomens, and it doesn't appear that such light breezes could be powerful enough to pull the threads out or even lift the biggest species into the air. Darwin himself deemed the speed of the spiders' flight "quite inexplicable" and its cause "inexplicable."
The fact that spiders can detect the electric field and use it to fly is explained by Erica Morley and Daniel Robert of the University of Bristol. The pair has demonstrated that spiders can sense Earth's electric field and utilize it to launch themselves into the air.
Every day, around 40,000 thunderstorms crack across the earth, forming a vast electrical circuit that transforms the planet's atmosphere. The upper regions of the atmosphere have a positive charge, and the surface has a negative one. A static potential of 100 volts is maintained by the Earth's surface, which acts as an electrical insulator. The air's charge may be likened to a gradient that varies from zero to hundreds of thousands of volts per meter depending on the weather or circumstances.
Ballooning spiders are influenced by this planet's electric field. When their silk leaves their bodies, it usually acquires a negative charge. This repels the same types of negatively charged particles on the areas where the spiders sit, creating enough power to raise them into the air. Spiders, on the other hand, may use their adhesive capture webbing to climb onto twigs, leaves, or grass blades. Plants have an identical negative charge as the earth on which they stand but extend into the positively charged atmosphere. The spiders' bodies generate large electric fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches—and they balloon from those tips.
In 1818, just before Darwin's journey, this concept was postulated by an English scientist named John Dalton. Peter Gorham, a physicist, resurrected the idea in 2013 and proved that it was feasible mathematically. Now Morley and Robert have put Dalton's hypothesis to the test with real spiders.
They proved that spiders can perceive electric fields, first. The researchers placed the arachnids on vertical pieces of cardboard in the middle of a plastic container and then generated strong electric fields between the floor and ceiling to mimic what the spiders would encounter outside. “The tiny sensory hairs on the spiders' feet, known as trichobothria, ruffled because of the vibrations,” says Morley. “It's like when you rub a balloon against your hair and hold it up to your head,” he adds.
The spiders performed a series of actions called tiptoeing in response to the vibrations—they stood on the ends of their legs and displayed their bellies. “That behavior has never been recorded prior to ballooning,” Morley adds. Despite being enclosed in closed containers with no ventilation, many of the spiders were able to fly away. And when Morley switched off the electric fields, the ballooning spiders fell.
It's especially crucial to understand that spiders can perceive electrostatic changes in their environment, according to Angela Chuang of the University of Tennessee.
“This is the basis for a lot of intriguing research questions,” she says. “How does the strength of an electric field affect the physics of takeoff, flight, and landing? Do spiders make decisions about when to break down their webs or create new ones based on information on atmospheric conditions?”
Proponents of this theory state that wind currents may still be involved. After all, the same hairs that allow spiders to detect electric fields can also help them judge wind speed and direction. Spiders, on the other hand, were shown to practice flying by raising their front legs into the wind, implying that they're testing the air's strength.
Regardless, Robert and Morley's research found that electrostatic forces alone are enough to lift spiders into the air. “This is excellent science,” Gorham adds. “To me, as a physicist, it was obvious that electric fields were essential, but I had no idea how the biology would help. Morley and Robert have gone above and beyond what I had expected.”
“I believe that Charles Darwin would be as enthusiastic about it as I was,” he adds.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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