Kid Learns How Spiders “Balloon”
Daddy aghast at video showing thousands of creepy flying spiders
In the continuing tradition of spending some part of our morning together watching “bug videos”—which has come to be a sort of shorthand for “science videos of all sorts”—Kina and I enjoyed a little jaunt yesterday through the “spiders” section of The Kid Should See This, and if you’re curious,
I think I had hoped to watch a video of a spider spinning a web or, I don’t know, living peacefully in the eaves of a barn like Charlotte the erudite spider. Kina, however, usually goes for the first video in the list, and that video was about how spiders fly. Because I have not read Charlotte’s Web in many years1, I had forgotten that spiders “balloon” by spinning out strands of silk. What I realized I had never known was that spiders use electrical fields to fly—which was an intriguing fact to add to my encyclopedic knowledge of spiders—and that they do so, often, by the thousands. This last bit is something I probably didn’t need to know.
I will let the bravest among you watch this video of real spiders soaring off into the sky, destined someday to land in my hair. I have a very real and reasonable fear of encountering hordes of flying spiders, because I know that it has happened to at least one famous scientist. In his diaries from HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin himself navigates through a cloud of ballooning spiders:
On several occasions, when the vessel has been within the mouth of the Plata, the rigging has been coated with the web of the Gossamer Spider. One day (November 1st, 1832) I paid particular attention to the phenomenon. The weather had been fine and clear, and in the morning the air was full of patches of the flocculent web, as on an autumnal day in England. The ship was sixty miles distant from the land, in the direction of a steady though light breeze. Vast numbers of a small spider, about one-tenth of an inch in length, and of a dusky red colour were attached to the webs. There must have been, I should suppose, some thousands on the ship.
“I should suppose,” he says. He “paid particular attention to the phenomenon”. There were thousands of them! He did not scream! Darwin was a braver man than I, and very sympathetic to spiders. Listen—I firmly believe in the value and honor of spiders, but I do not hope to encounter one flying through the air, let alone dozens of them. Fly, little arachnids! Fly at a reasonable altitude!
After Kina and I watch our bug videos in the morning, I conduct an impromptu quiz, which I shall now administer to you.
What carries spiders through the air?
The answer is 3, electricity. ding, ding, ding!
What do spiders use to fly?
The answer is 2, silk. ding, ding, ding!
How do spiders know when it is time to fly?
The hair on their little legs
The answer is 3, the hair on their little legs. ding, ding, ding!
Kina got all three answers after just one viewing of the less-creepy video above. How did you score? Maybe you should watch more ookey spider videos! Let me know what you learn.
I have distinct memories of watching adults burst into tears while reading Charlotte’s Web, and so I kind of don’t want to read it now, though I know I probably should. Somebody should compile a list of books that kids love and parents weep over.