Recently on several news programmes and websites a video taken in New Zealand of an ocean of shimmering spider silk hit the headlines. The silk, known as gossamer, is floating in the wind across a field of grass looking like waves.
The fine silk is produced by young spiders (spiderlings) as a means of travelling or ‘ballooning’ from place to place. On still days the spiderlings release long strands of the fine gossamer into the air; once it reaches a certain length the air currents are strong enough to lift the spiders into the air and they float off, travelling from a few metres to thousands of kilometres. It is claimed that gossamer and spiderlings have been found landing onto ships 1,600 km from land and caught on weather balloons at heights of 5 km.
In the case of the recent video the sea of gossamer is created by many thousands of spiderlings all ballooning at the same time; probably to excape the wet passture caused by recent heavy rains. But you may find such gossamer on your lawn from time to time. It is often most easily seen on dewy autumn mornings.
By David Brittain