The rural NSW town of Goulburn has been thrust into the creepy international limelight after photos emerged of a paddock coated in spider webs.
Stunning images of the natural phenomenon, known as ‘Angel Hair’, have spread far and wide online showing what initially looks like a blanket of snowfall – but is actually field upon field of interweaving spider webs.
South Australian retiree Keith Basterfield has been cataloging the phenomenon since 2001, and said it happened in Australia a couple of times a year, often on clear days with slight winds.
“They fly through the sky and then we see these falls of spider webs that look almost as if it’s snowing,”
But arachnophobes, horror-movie enthusiasts and general worriers need not panic – the behavior, while bizarre to witness, is completely normal.
Naturalist Martyn Robinson from the Australian Museum told The Sydney Morning Herald that two “migration techniques” were at play.
The first, called “ballooning”, involves spiders climbing to the top of vegetation and releasing a streamer of silk that catches the wind and transports the spider, like a parachute.
“They can literally travel for kilometres, which is why every continent has spiders. Even in Antarctica they regularly turn up but just die,” Mr Robinson said.
The second behavior occurs after heavy rains and floods.
Scores of the little critters avoid drowning by producing silk “snag lines” up into the air, which they catch and use to haul themselves out of the threatening waterlogged terrain.
The natural phenomenon occurs all over the world. The above picture was taken in 1974 in Albury. (Keith Basterfield)
Rick Vetter, a retired arachnologist from the University of California,told Live Science, the event occurred “all the time”.
“Ballooning is a not-uncommon behavior of many spiders. They climb some high areas and stick their butts up in the air and release silk,” he said.
In May 2011, a South Australian pilot described the floating “clumps” of silk-like material he witnessed while flying towards Mount Gambier at a height of 2,000 feet – demonstrating how high the critters can go,
In the latest occurrence, Goulburn resident Ian Watson said his property – and beard – had been inundated by the innovative creepy crawlies.
“It was beautiful, but at the same time I was annoyed because you couldn’t go out without getting spider webs on you. And I’ve got a beard as well, so they kept getting in my beard.
“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,” he said.
While the latest display has embellished Australia’s reputation as a country teeming with frightening animals, it turns out down under is not so special – the mass behavior has been observed in different parts of the world, including North and South America.
Brazilian town Santo Antonio da Platina achieved its five minutes of fame in February 2013 when local man Erick Reis filmed hordes of the “floating” spiders.
A biologist told Brazilian newspaper G1 the behavior was normal across several spider species characterized by their sizable colonies and sheet webs.