Survival is the most primal of instincts. If danger approaches us, we run. If a hurricane warning threatens, we evacuate. However, it just so happens as humans, we are not the only species to reflexively respond to evacuation as a means of survival. In Australia, thousands upon thousands of wolf spiders have abandoned their homes due to flooding; but instead of taking refuge in a high school gymnasium or a YMCA, they’ve taken over private residences – over 8,000 of them.
It sounds like something out of the Twilight Zone, but it’s true. Over 8,000 individuals have been temporarily forced out of their homes due to a phenomenon known as ballooning. With the recent flooding of the Murrumbidgee River, hordes of wolf spiders have been spinning sticky webs of dragline silk to survive the inundation. This behavior is especially strange for wolf spiders which are typically solitary ground-dwelling creatures. According to Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist at the Bohart Museum of Entomology,
“Wolf spiders would rather be hiding somewhere, trying to escape birds and other predators, but when land gets so flooded, the spiders are forced to flee into trees and other high things”
Ballooning allows the wolf spiders to fly into the air and parachute to other locations, sometimes covering long distances if need be. Each spider casts a thread of silk into the air and rides wind currents away from danger, resulting in the blanketing effect that has forced so many Australian civilians out of their homes.
Although ballooning is indeed a sight to behold, and in the case of the Australian residents, a severe inconvenience, it is not terribly uncommon. Post-flood ballooning also occurred in Pakistan just last April, with millions of spiders forming gigantic web clusters in trees to escape rising waters.
Although a sequel to 1977’s “Kingdom of the Spiders” is in development to be filmed this year (I know. I’m serious.) it won’t be as a result of Australia’s flooding situation. The wolf spiders are not expected to get cozy enough to stay in the residential homes permanently. Weather reports in Australia say the flood waters have begun receding, meaning the wolf spiders will soon be returning to their natural habitats and locals will soon be able to return home.