Some Spiders Can “Fly.” Here’s How.

Image: Andre Karwath/Flickr

We hate to break it to you arachnophobes, but some species of spider can fly.

Not with wings, of course (that would be weird). Instead, the tiny arachnids take to the air using a genius technique called ballooning.

How does it work? First, to prepare for lift-off, the spiders anchor themselves to a structure for safety — they don’t want to be swept away by just any gust of wind. They then assess the current wind conditions by raising a front leg into the air. After ensuring that the conditions are in their favor, the spiders stand up straight, proudly raise their butts in the air, and release 50 to 60 ten-foot-long silks that act as a parachute to lift them into the wind.

The strands of silk are so thin and light in comparison to the surrounding air that it’s as if they’re suspended in a substance as thick as honey, which is why they can remain in the air so long.

GIF via Imgur

Spiders can also use the Earth’s electric field to their advantage. Our planet’s surface has a negative charge, while the upper atmosphere is positive. This means that our atmosphere is essentially one giant electrical circuit. The spider’s silk picks up a negative charge as it leaves the body; since like charges repel one another, the negative charges from the silk repel the negative charges on the ground, lifting the spiders upward.

This sounds improbable, but it’s been tested in a lab. By creating an electric field inside a closed box, researchers were able to get spiders to balloon without a breath of wind. And, when the scientists turned off the electric field inside the boxes, the spiders dropped to the floor.

These methods are so effective that some spiders are capable of traversing entire oceans this way. What’s more, you can find these parachuting spiders as high as 2 miles above Earth.

While it sounds like it quite an enjoyable experience for spiders, ballooning serves a purpose. Hatchlings will balloon to find themselves a new place to call home, and adults use the technique as an easier way to travel to find food and mates.

But because weight is certainly a factor, only the smallest spiders can fly in this way. So you don’t have to worry about giant tarantulas flying through the air anytime soon.

Watch ballooning in action below!