This may look like an absolute nightmare for arachnophobes, but spider experts say that the half-mile-long (0.8 kilometres) spider web that houses thousands or even millions of spiders and covers the ground in Memphis – a city in the south-western corner of Tennessee – is not harmful at all.
Dr. Steve Reichling, curator of the Memphis Zoo said that this is a mass dispersal of millions of spiders that have actually always lived in the field.
According to Debra Lewis, a resident in the northern Memphis neighbourhood – which is home to the giant spider web – the spiders were all over the walls and doors, and people living in the neighbourhood were trying to get rid of the little spiders one by one.
The tiny spiders are most likely sheet weaver or money spiders, of the Linyphiidae family – a spider family with more than 4,300 described species. All of the family members can be found nearly worldwide.
Dr. Reichling says that people should not fear these small creatures, because they do not bite and are practically harmless. Moreover, farmers from Memphis may feel consoled to know that spiders normally feed on agricultural pests. The presence of spiders also indicates a healthy ecosystem, Dr. Reichling added.
The blanket of silk web that covers part of a field in the northern Memphis neighbourhood is due to a spider migrations know as “ballooning” or kiting. Ballooning is a behaviour in which spiders shoot threads of silk and use wind currents to move between locations. With the help of air-borne dispersal, the spiders are able to move forward several feet at a time.
Susan Riechart, a professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and former president of the American Arachnological Society, said that due to the air currents that are quite strong, the tiny baby-spiders have no control over where they may fall, but they typically all land in the same area.
Ballooning events can happen all over the Northern Hemisphere. For instance, such events have also been spotted in the United Kingdom.
It is important to note that these spiders pose no threat to people. According to Robb Bennett, a spider expert at Canada’s Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, ballooning is just a spectacular natural occurrence.
In 2012, wolf spiders covered the city of Wagga Wagga – a city in New South Wales, Australia – in white silk as they were trying to escape the rain and flood.
Image Source: popsci