Floodwaters forced thousands of spiders
to seek higher ground, leaving a region in Australia
's southeast engulfed in sheets of web.
Residents in Victoria's Gippsland region witnessed the spectacle after heavy rain
and flooding hit the area last week, destroying dozens of homes and killing two people
Thousands, if not millions, of spiders fled to plants
, signs, and anything else above ground as a result of the flooded soil.
“We are constantly surrounded by spiders, but we rarely see them because they are hiding in the leaf litter and in the soil,” Lizzy Lowe, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University
, wrote in an explainer for The Conversation.
“When these flood events occur, they must quickly evacuate up out of the holes they live in underground, and they come out en masse, using their silk to assist them.”
After emerging from egg sacs, baby spiders use the same ballooning technique of releasing strands of silk to catch the wind and disperse.
The blanket silk effect, known as gossamer, is produced by thousands of spiders simultaneously ballooning.
Cobwebs have blanketed a town in Gippsland after intense flooding in the area sparked a spider invasion. #9News pic.twitter.com/OuJpWHUfc4 — 9News Perth (@9NewsPerth) June 15, 2021
According to Lowe, the mass evacuation in Gippsland is most likely a combination of many different adult spiders, a phenomenon that has been observed in other parts of Australia and around the world following flood events.
The gossamer effect occurs semi-regularly in Victoria during the winter wet season, according to Ken Walker, senior curator of entomology at the Melbourne Museum.
“What happened is that there was a massive flooding event pretty quickly... so they're using the ballooning not to escape for hundreds of kilometers but to almost throw up a lasso on top of the vegetation, hooking on to the tops of the vegetation because it's lighter than air, and then they quickly climb up.”
Carolyn Crossley, a local council member, shared a video of the aftermath and asked for donations
to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund, which is assisting flood-affected areas.
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Locals were told to leave the spiders alone because the webbing would break up on its own and the arachnids would disperse and return to their underground homes, according to Walker.