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Spiders may have flown 400 miles to colonize island 2 million years ago, study says

Posted December 7, 2016

Not only can some spiders fly, but now scientists believe airborne arachnids may have flown hundreds of miles across the ocean 2 millions years ago.

This is worrisome for many people. Mostly arachnophobes. A new study says these spiders likely landed on Robinson Crusoe Island, about 400 miles off the coast of Chile, 2 million years ago. From there, the spiders blossomed into several new species, and scientists have identified at least three that were previously unknown. “Everything that lives there comes from somewhere else and evolved in a very short span of time,” Martín Ramírez told National Geographic. Ramirez is a spider researcher with Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

The so-called ghost spiders originated in South America, according to National Geographic. They used a technique called ballooning, which is when spiders use their silk to catch the wind and glide for long distances.

“It’s not infrequent [to] find flying spiders in the middle of the ocean,” Ramírez said.

And ballooning isn’t the only way spiders can fly. The skydiving Selenops, a nocturnal hunting spider also found in South America, can jump from trees and control its direction on the way down, according to a study published in 2015 from the University of California, Berkeley. The spider uses this ability to glide back to tree trunks.

"My guess is that many animals living in the trees are good at aerial gliding, from snakes and lizards to ants and now spiders," researcher Robert Dudley said in a statement. "If a predator comes along, it frees the animal to jump if it has a time-tested way of gliding to the nearest tree rather than landing in the understory or in a stream."

Flying spiders are pretty bad, but what about flying snakes? More like gliding snakes, but yes, those exist too.

Snakes of the Chrysolopea genus can slither through the air for up to 100 feet because they transform their body into an aerodynamic surface, according a study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology in 2014.

The snakes, also known as paradise tree snakes, live in the Southeast Asian rainforest and launch off trees to slither through the air while making an "S" shape to reach their next destination.


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