The attack of the flying spiders

By guest writer Rose Farley

Unusual bits of white string seen floating through the sky this morning had some residents wondering whether they were seeing the remnants of a silly string battle or, perhaps, witnessing an alien invasion. After the threads began attaching themselves to street lamps, stair railings, bushes and even cars, a closer inspection revealed the threads contained tiny white creatures.

Were these invaders from outer space intent on hatching pods and taking over our bodies when we go to sleep? Alas, no, says Allen Dean, a research assistant in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University.

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After being sent two photographs of the creatures taken outside the Advocate’s offices, Dean identified them as common spiders known as the striped Lynx or, to be more precise, the Oxyopes salticus, Family Oxyopidae.

The spiders are beneficial because they feed on other pests about their size and they are not harmful to people. This morning’s event, which is known as ballooning, happens when the spiders let out silk from their abdomens and become airborne as a way to disperse.

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“The distance they can travel depends on the air currents,” Dean says, adding that, like a parachuter, they can pull in the silk to descend. “Ballooning is a common event and occurs one to two times per year (May and September). They can have two generations per year with egg sacs hatching about this time of year.”

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