First they show up like shooting stars, but as they come closer, it’s clear that they’re some kind of UFO. Then, by the time they’re really close up—perhaps too close—you can see that it is, in fact, a spider with some kind of web-based parachute. The nightmarish phenomenon is known as “spider ballooning” and for the Southern Tablelands region of New South Wales, Australia it recently brought a rain of millions of tiny baby spiders and their silk down over farms, homes and—yes—people in the area.
Reports of the spider rain came from across the region at the end of last month. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Ian Watson of Goulburn described a scene in which his house looked as though it had been “abandoned and taken over by spiders… 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 added, “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.” Few of us could hope to be quite so calm.
So what exactly causes this bizarre phenomenon? It turns out that this technique—spider ballooning—is how the arachnids migrate. Yes, spiders migrate. According to Naturalist Martyn Robinson of the Australian Museum spiders can climb to the top of vegetation, release a silky stream of thread and be carried aloft for thousands of kilometers—and have been found up to three thousand meters up in the air.
And this is why we have spiders on every continent. Apparently spiders even make it to Antarctica—but only for brief periods of time before they perish in the cold.
As the spiders land, their silky parachutes coat whatever surface they land on—creating a phenomenon known as Angel Hair, which seems like an oddly attractive, pasta-related term to bestow upon what is—in this instance—a very, very large spider web raining down from the sky. The reason why we don’t typically notice mass rainfalls of arachnids is that they typically don’t migrate in groups of several million.
The residents of the South Tablelands were just on the unfortunate receiving end of an unusual occurrence. As Live Science explains, spiders are known to balloon in the Outback during late autumn (May) and early spring (August). But, as they ballooned “an abrupt change in the weather or wind pattern may have carried these migrating spiders up and away and then back down to earth en mass—not the orderly dispersal that they (or the residents of the Southern Tablelands region) were expecting.
So there you have it—nothing unusual about flying spiders raining down on us—you probably won’t even notice it unless some odd weather system forces them all to the ground.