The spiders are part of what looks like a biblical plague of critters to hit Australia this year after droughts and floods that have unleashed hordes of mice chewing their way across agricultural areas, leaving devastated crops in their wake. The massive mouse infestation has some Aussies worried that snakes looking for prey could follow the rodents in coming months, but for now some residents in eastern Victoria can enjoy the silky trails of their spider friends.
Ken Walker, a senior curator of entomology at the Melbourne Museum, told the Guardian that the countless numbers of webs appear about once a year and that the phenomenon is beautiful.
“Spiders can make a wide range of different silks and one of the silks they use for this behavior — ballooning — it’s a very, very thin little silk that they use … to fly away with the breeze. They could fly 100 km,” or about 60 miles, he told the Guardian.
Dieter Hochuli, an ecologist from the University of Sydney, told 7 News that the ground-dwelling sheetweb spiders are doing essentially what people do in situations where their homes are no longer habitable — they move to higher ground.
The spiders are harmless to humans and are known to build horizontal webs under rocks, a practice that led to their name.
“One of the really interesting things about it is that it shows ... just what’s always happening beneath our noses, in a vibrant ecosystem that is very much out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “We just don’t realize how much is going on in the ground layer until these things come out into plain sight.”
The sight has been captivating users across social media who either admire the fine silk shrouds or find them horrifying.
Carolyn Crossley, a local council member, posted a widely shared video of webs billowing in the wind along with a donation link to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund, which is helping clean up the hard-hit flood areas.
“We can see mother nature can be beautiful, but she can also be destructive,” she wrote in the Facebook post. “Inundating homes, disrupting farms and businesses and some 300 homes are still without power.”
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Monday that 98 homes were uninhabitable and that 84 had significant damage because of flooding, Yahoo News Australia reported.
The emergency crews could be there much longer than the spiders that have parachuted themselves onto dry land, Walker told the Guardian.
“These threads are so thin, usually as soon as the first breeze comes along, they get quickly broken up and dispersed,” he said.