Spiders spin 'angel's hair' webs

JUST as a rainbow appears after rain, beauty also arose following the recent flooding.

On January 13, Josy and Col Billing returned home to their property at Glenugie, south-east of Grafton, after spending the day in town.

They arrived home to find dozens of strange looking white ‘things’ scattered across bushes and the grass.

Concerned and confused, they investigated and found the mysterious material to be spider webs.

Relieved the material was natural – not plastic or netting – the couple took dozens of photos of the phenomenon.

They then set out to investigate what had caused this mysterious happening.

“We have lived on this property for 27 years and have seen many floods with our creek rising accordingly, but this is the first time we have witnessed such a remarkable picture,” Mrs Billing said.

“The breeze was from the east/north-east, but the webs were mainly on the west side of the bushes. We made investigations and, thanks to Martyn at the Australian Museum, we have now been given the following information:

With all the rains we’ve had recently a lot of spiders have been flooded out and/or the spiders were washed down the creeks along with the floodwaters.

Those that do not drown let out streamers of silk to catch the breeze so they might get blown onto obstructions like overhanging branches or shrubs emerging from the water.

As these get covered in webs they become even more attractive as refuges from the waters.

The result you get is this attractive phenomenon of web covered bushes and trees.

Overseas this is sometimes referred to as ‘Angel’s Hair’, but is more usually caused by thousands of baby spiders dispersing from their hatching sites in the same way by releasing a streamer of silk and letting the breeze carry them to a new destination.

This process of dispersal is known as ballooning.

Despite the explanation on the spider webs from the Australian Museum, Mrs Billing is still no closer to finding out why it has only happened once during the 15 or so floods she’d experienced in the 27 years she and her husband had lived on the property.

“Our house overlooks the Glenugie Creek, and is about 24.5 metres above the normal water level,” she said.

“In January, when this attractive phenomenon occurred, we saw our Glenugie Creek rise to 3.6 metres.

“The height in April/May 1996 was about the same as in January 2011.

“In April 2009, it rose to 3.8 metres. In March 2001 we witnessed it at approximately 4.15 metres.”

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