- Flooding in Australia has forced wolf spiders to go out into the open, where they have produced massive amounts of dragline silk.
- Earlier reports that these spiders blanketed areas with webs are inaccurate, since wolf spiders do not make webs.
- The spiders may have also engaged in a phenomenon known as "ballooning," which allows them to fly into the air and parachute to other locations.
A story that went viral this weekabout spider webs blanketing an Australian city is not entirely accurate.
What the spiders were doing was creating a line of silk not webs, an entomologist has told Discovery News. The arachnid at the root of the story, a wolf spider, doesn't even make webs.
So, what these images show are massive amounts of dragline silk released by the normally solitary spiders as they ran for their lives to escape rising floodwaters. According to Reuters, flooding forced more than 8000 human residents from their homes in the city of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
And the spider residents were equally affected too.
"Wolf spiders would rather be hiding somewhere, trying to escape birds and other predators, but when land gets so flooded the spiders are forced to flee into trees and other high things," Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California at Davis, told Discovery News.
"These spiders leave behind a dragline of silk, so the spiders at these places in Australia must be nervously running into each other, marching around in search of food," he added. "There is clearly a lot of spider activity, as evidenced by the massive amounts of silk."
Owen Seeman, an arachnid expert at Queensland Museum, identified the spider in question as "a type of wolf spider." These are common spiders throughout the world, with 130 species documented in Australia alone.
Wolf spiders do not make webs, which many other spiders use to capture prey.
"Wolf spiders are instead like mini tigers that run and pounce on prey at night," Heydon said.
In some of the news stories about the Australian spider silk "storm," at least one expert, the Australian Museum's entomology collections manager Graham Milledge, has been quoted as saying that the spiders were "ballooning." Andy Reynolds, a scientist at Rothamsted Research, has studied this phenomenon before.