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Spiders use electricity to fly through the air like a real-life ‘Spiderman’

Credit: Martin Cooper/Flickr, Marvel Studios, Columbia Pictures)

Researchers have finally confirmed that there is a theory that the father of evolution, Charles Darwin believed, but was never able to prove – spiders can fly.

To make use of an artificial electric field, researchers Erica Morley and Daniel Robert of the University of Bristol have shown that spiders can make use of the electrical currents and actually “flies”, or more accurately, “balloon”, and in the air.

“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 are found at 4 km in the air, spreading hundreds of miles.”

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The researchers added that “the presence of a vertical e-field attracts ballooning behaviour and take-off in spiders.”

The paper is published in Current Biology (but not of the Daily Bugle).

Morley and Robert caught spiders of the genus Erigone (unfortunately, there is no Peter Parker sex… but still) and the set up of an experiment to see if Darwin’s theory could be proven, and low and behold, it worked.

“The amount of the applicable arguments, Charles Darwin thought about how the thermals can the forces necessary for hot-air ballooning when he saw hundreds of spiders get off on the [H. M. S.] Beagle on a quiet day at sea,” the researchers wrote in the newspaper.

In his diary, Darwin wrote he had caught spiders that came from a great distance, but wasn’t sure how they had gotten to the ship.

“I caught some of the Aeronaut spiders which must have at least 60 kilometers,” Darwin wrote, according to Motherboard. “How inexplicable is the cause which leads to these small insects, as it now appears in both hemispheres, to undertake their aerial excursions.”

With great power comes great responsibility and these arachnids are not unlike a certain web-slinger seen on TV and the silver screen. Instead of shooting a web from their wrists (or in the case of Tom Holland’s version, the pack itself), they make use of the atmospheric potential gradient (APG), an electrical circuit between the Earth and the ionosphere, in the air and drift away.

The presence of a thunderstorm is especially important, because they act as a battery for the APG and keep the costs in the electric field up-and-running.

When the electric field is turned on, the spiders exploded; the likely cause of this problem is spiders’ sensory hairs known as trichobothria, the researchers believe. When it is turned off, the spiders would fall down.

Morley said that it is unclear whether “electric fields are required to be spider ballooning,” but he added, “we know… that they are sufficient,” while speaking with ScienceAlert.

So the next time you see something flying in the air, don’t be surprised if the friendly neighborhood spider-man.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

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