The spiders use the earth's charges to boost their launch and take flight. Spiders and their ballooning ability with the earth's electric charges allow them to take flight. (Image via Michael Hutchinson)


In 1832, Charles Darwin first discovered the aerodynamics ability of spiders via electric power. His discovery was first realized when he found spiders aboard his ship when venturing across 60 miles of ocean space on a calm and clear day.


At the time, Darwin had witnessed two different types of spiders take action on their flight. One species of spider was small, while the other was larger. The first spider lifted its abdomen, spurted out a thread and launched itself into the air with great speed. The larger species release several threads that were over a yard in length. The spider then released itself from the post it had sat on and took flight.


Originally, Darwin had theorized the use of thermal air currents at use here, but that didn't seem likely and didn't fit the explanation as to how larger spiders were able to take flight so quickly. When the air was calming. These spiders have also been known to be found as high as 2.5 miles (4 kilometers), and it seems likely that they didn't get there solely on hot air.

Darwin and others, later on, came to the conclusion that electrostatic repulsion had an effect in the fanning of the spider's threads.  It was later determined that electrostatic forces could determine the flight of the spiders.


There are so many different ways the strand can obtain a charge - one of them being through the charging of the strands in the earth's atmosphere through spinning. This is done in a process called flow electrification. There is a source for this charge which is likely coming from the earth which has a charge density of 6 nanoCoulombs per square meter. Which is strong enough to the silk a good boost and spiders may be able to find areas where the charge density is higher.


This explains how spiders have great launch power in still air, why large spiders can acquire a large lift and why silk strands tend to fan out. It's all because their negative charges repel. 



Linyphiid spiders were placed in a lab-controlled electric field with charges alike the earth's atmosphere. This was done to observe the flight of the spiders. They rose into the air when there was a presence of electric fields in the lab, and the spiders floated back down when it was turned off. It observes and established a very clear relation between electrostatic forces and the ballooning ability in spiders.


Darwin's theory has been proven correct after nearly two centuries when these experiments were conducted.


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