Imagine waking up to find your garden, car and home are now all covered in a dense layer of cobwebs, teeming with millions of baby spiders. It’s the stuff of nightmares for those with arachnophobia.
It's also a distressing reality for those living in the town of Goulburn in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “millions of baby spiders” have been spotted “raining from the sky.”
However, this baby spider invasion is not a strange event for these eight-legged creatures. Spiders can release gossamer (silk threads) as parachutes, which, when picked up by the wind, allow them to travel across great distances in their natural periodic migrations. Known as "ballooning," spiders have been reportedly seen as far as 1,600 kilometers (990 mi) from land, and covering atmospheric data balloons that were collecting air samples 5 kilometers (16,000 ft) above sea level.
Sticky with aggregate (spider glue), these parachutes can knit together en masse, forming thick layers in transit or when they settle.
Image Credit: Eryk Bagshaw
"They can literally travel for kilometers, which is why every continent has spiders. Even in Antarctica, they regularly turn up but just die," explained Australian Museum's naturalist Martyn Robinson to the Sydney Morning Herald. "That's also why the first land animals to arrive on new islands formed by volcanic activity are usually spiders. You can have entire fields and paddocks and trees festooned with this gossamer or Angel Hair, as some people call it.”
Tracking this “Angel Hair” phenomenon since 2001, South Australian retiree Keith Basterfield made an appeal via the Goulburn Post to anyone who had seen these ethereal cobwebs.
One resident wrote in that she had seen clouds of silk “floating through the sky” for at least 30 minutes, while another wrote that she had seen such clouds settle in clumps in her garden and on her clothes-line. Far from being distressed about this new kingdom of spiders, it seems as though these Goulburn residents are living somewhat peacefully with these tiny arachnids.