Video: The awesome autumn phenomenon of spider ballooning
My family from Indiana decided to visit me recently. We met in Wisconsin Rapids, they really wanted to visit a cranberry bog and see a few sandhill cranes. The nearby Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see cranes and trumpeter swans.
When we arrived at Necedah, we noticed some people returning from the trail and one gentleman in particular seemed to be covered in threads or what I suspected were silks from spiders. I wondered what was up. When we walked to the back of the visitor center at Necedah, my mom and sisters found the restroom, and as I waited I scanned the skies. I noticed a lot of stuff in the air and then looked closer. I realized that there were hundreds maybe thousands of “strings” in the air. Then I recalled a Facebook post that my friend Gordon Dietzman placed (https://www.facebook.com/MississippiRiverNPS/photos/a.10153800484667344.1073741864.92067212343/10153800487547344/?type=3&theater) about spiders that “balloon” this time of year as a means of moving from area to another, sometimes by the thousands, if not millions.
Ballooning occurs with recently hatched spiderlings or older spiders small enough for the wind to carry them when they shoot out bits of gossamer threads from their abdomen. It’s a way for spiders to find new territory far from where they hatched.
Getting excited when I realized what was happening, I debated with myself as to whether or not I should tell my family. My sister, Monica in particular, is not a fan of spiders and insects. But it was so cool, I pointed it out and got some of the ballooning spiders in my scope. My family agreed this was an unusual and mesmerizing sight. We headed down to the boardwalk to get a better look at cranes. When we got there, spiders and their silks were all over. Hundreds of small spiders, some so tiny I didn’t see them until I aimed my binoculars at them covered the wooden railings on the boardwalk. I walked ahead of the group and felt all the silks break apart, I hoped my sister Monica wouldn’t notice. After about 15 feet she said, “Yeah, I’m out, I’m going back.”
I was surprised she lasted that long.
I stayed and watched the spiders. I texted Gordon to share that I was witnessing the spider ballooning at Necedah just like he described. He suggested that I hold my finger up to a spider, have it crawl on my finger and then hold my finger in the air to watch it shoot out silk and glide away. I don’t have a spider phobia, but I don’t seek them out to have them crawl on me, but I trust Gordon. I let a spider crawl on my index finger and within a few seconds it crawled to the tip, lifted up its hind end and started shooting out silks, and a minute later glided away.
I shot some video of the spiders flying through the air and of a spider shooting out the gossamer threads and getting picked up by the wind. (Spider ballooning video.)
We did see lots of cranes and swans, but the spider ballooning is one of the weirdest and most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in nature.