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Millions Of Spiders Escaping Floodwaters Cover Trees In Silk

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The rising floodwaters in northern Tasmania has been causing millions of small black spiders to escape to treetops, covering them in silk. The natural phenomenon is called "ballooning" and it can be quite unsettling.

In ballooning, spiders throw out silk filaments and use the wind to "hitch a ride" to higher grounds. According to Graham Milledge, the Australian Museum's arachnology collection manager, the massive ballooning event was the result of the spiders congregating toward the remaining dry spots in the region. The tens of thousands of spiders that escaped the floodwaters ended up forming a thick netting.

Local resident Ken Puccetti said "the plague" nearly extends to about 800 meters (0.5 miles) long. Puccetti, who took photos of the natural phenomenon, said the silk was so dense that it ended up on his legs, arms and shoes.

"It's a way of dispersing - their way of flying, if you like. Spiders are the major insect predator in the environment and events like this show people just how many spiders there are out there," added Milledge.

In 2015, heavy rains caused a similar ballooning event in Goulburn, New South Wales. This year, the record heavy rains around Launceston, Tasmania's second biggest city, resulted in major floods. But this isn't the first time the spiders used their webs to escape the floodwaters in Australia.

In 2012, a similar event took place in Wagga Wagga, eastern Australia. Week-long record rains forced millions of spiders to escape to higher grounds while approximately 13,000 residents fled their homes because of the floods.

Arachnologist Todd Blackledge from the University of Akron said last year that the silk strands act "a little bit like a hot-air balloon." The silk strands allow the spiders to catch a ride with the wind and end up where the wind take them.

While ballooning helps the spider populations spread to areas, this year, the case seems to be a survival technique to help the black spiders escape the rising floodwaters in Tasmania.

The silk-coated treetops in Launceston could be a sign of the spiders' failed attempts to escape the flooded areas. The spiders could have sent out their ballooning silk threads at the same time but the strong winds could have blown back the threads into the treetops repetitively. The failed attempts ended up creating a very tangled mat of silk threads.

The half-mile long spider silk-covered trees can be unsettling for some people. However, the impressive, natural phenomenon is a display of what spiders can do.

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