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Billowing clouds of cobwebs have carried millions of spiders to safety

Olivia Jenkins, June 16, 2021 6:30PM News Corp Australia Network

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You are now entering spider town: spider web ballooning has erupted in the Gippsland region after flooding in the area. Picture: Lotje McDonald Photography. media_cameraYou are now entering spider town: spider web ballooning has erupted in the Gippsland region after flooding in the area. Picture: Lotje McDonald Photography.

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A sea of cobwebs blanketed a Gippsland town in Victoria last week as the region was lashed by flooding.

Arachnophobes*, beware: in a phenomenon* called ballooning, cooler weather conditions have seen spiders covering stretches of the Longford area in cloudlike cobwebs as they attempt to shelter themselves from wet conditions on the ground.

media_cameraBeautiful images of webs that have saved millions of spiders from drowning are reminiscent of art installations. Picture: Lotje McDonald Photography.

Gippsland-based photographer Lotje McDonald captured the ballooning in action and said locals are still mesmerised* by the phenomenon despite spiders staking their claim on the land whenever there is a flood.

“It is quite a sight still for the locals – there were billions of them,” Ms McDonald said.

Ms McDonald said she was “amazed” at how much terrain* the spiders had covered, and trawled through thick layers of their webs to snap the shots.

media_cameraPhotographer Lotje McDonald ended up covered in spiders after capturing the ballooning event in Longford, Victoria. Picture: Lotje McDonald Photography.

“The whole South Gippsland highway was covered in spider webs,” she said. “I was covered in them by the end of the shoot.”

Museums Victoria senior insects curator* Dr Ken Walker said “millions and millions” of spiders created the airborne cobwebs following the onset of heavy rain and dropping temperatures.

“People just don’t realise there are millions of them out there because they are normally down on the ground,” Dr Walker said.

media_cameraIt looks as pretty as snowfall but these are cobwebs in Longford, Victoria, that have safely moved spiders to higher ground during recent floods. Picture: Lotje McDonald Photography.

Dr Walker said while ballooning lasted just a few days, it can often stretch across several kilometres of land, as well as floating just as high into the sky.

“This can stretch over hundreds of kilometres and be blown up to 3 km in the air,” he said.

Dr Walker said ballooning was a temporary survival tactic that allowed the spiders to continue to hunt for food and house their young while the ground below dried out after the flooding.

“They let silk out and it floats up so they can get away from the sodden ground,” he said.

“If they were on the ground they would drown. It is a survival and dispersal* technique.”

media_cameraPicture: Lotje McDonald Photography.

GLOSSARY

  • arachnophobe: someone with an extreme or irrational fear of spiders
  • phenomenon: a remarkable occurrence or thing
  • mesmerised: capture the complete attention, hypnotise or transfix
  • terrain: ground area, stretch of land
  • curator: keeper or custodian of museum or other collection
  • dispersal: spreading things or people over a wide area

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is ballooning?
  2. Who captured the ballooning in action?
  3. How many spiders does Dr Walker say created the airborne cobwebs?
  4. How far and how high can ballooning stretch, according to Dr Walker?
  5. How does ballooning help spiders survive?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Information poster
Create an information poster about the phenomenon of ballooning.

Your poster should include:

  • a prominent heading
  • five subheadings, each beginning with the question words: what, who, when, where, why
  • one or two sentences of text beneath each subheading to answer the question
  • some pictures

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
If you had never seen ballooning before and hadn’t read this news story, what other weird or wacky explanations do you think you could come up with for it? Write a paragraph giving a made-up reason for the cloudlike substance along the roadside!

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Summarise the article
A summary is a brief statement of the main points of something. It does not usually include extra detail or elaborate on the main points.

Use the 5W & H model to help you find the key points of this article. Read the article carefully to locate who and what this article is about, and where, when, why and how this is happening. Once you have located this information in the article, use it to write a paragraph that summarises the article.

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