If you’re frightened of spiders you might want to cross this place off your list of places to visit.
For last week the residents of Goulburn in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia, endured a veritable storm of arachnids as thousands rained down from the skies.
Goulburn resident Ian Watson told the Sydney Morning Herald the phenomenon left his house looking like it had been “abandoned and taken over by spiders.”
He added: “The whole place was covered in these little black spiderlings and when I looked up at the sun it was like this tunnel of webs going up for a couple of hundred metres into the sky.”
Watson described the ethereal sight as “beautiful” but added the swarm was so thick the eight-legged creatures kept getting stuck in his beard.
Writing on the Goulburn Community Forum Facebook page, he asked: “Anyone else experiencing this ‘Angel Hair’ or maybe aka millions of spiders falling from the sky right now? I’m 10 minutes out of town and you can clearly see hundreds of little spiders floating along with their webs and my home is covered in them. Someone call a scientist!”
Luckily, someone did. The phenomenon is called “ballooning”, retired arachnologist Rick Vetter at the University of California tells Live Science.
“Ballooning is a not-uncommon behaviour of many spiders. They climb some high area and stick their butts in the air and release silk. Then they just take off.
“This is going on all around us all the time. We just don’t notice.”
Todd Blackledge, a biology professor at the University of Akron in Ohio added: “In these kinds of events, what's thought to be going on is that there's a whole cohort of spiders that's ready to do this ballooning dispersal behavior, but for whatever reason, the weather conditions haven't been optimal and allowed them to do that. But then the weather changes, and they have the proper conditions to balloon, and they all start to do it.”
Meanwhile Australian retiree Keith Basterfield, who is appealing for more information about the incident in Goulburn in order to update his personal research, seconded this explanation.
Basterfield said he had been on the Bureau of Meteorology a week previously and that the conditions were “just right”.
Expanding on the phenomenon, he told the Goulburn Post: “What happens is that during a particular time of the year, particularly in May and August, young spiders in the Outback somewhere throw these threads of spiderwebs up in the air and use them as a parachute to detach themselves from the ground and move in large colonies through the sky.
“They fly through the sky and then we see these falls of spider webs that look almost as if it’s snowing.”