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Molly Cule
2180.  Wed Nov 26, 2003 11:30 am Reply with quote

The first living things to re-colonise Krakatoa after it exploded in 1883 were spiders, which ballooned in from neighbouring islands 25 miles away.

A spider who decides to balloon climbs high - up a post or branch of a tree - faces the wind, stands on tip toes and puffs its chest out until a line of silk is drawn out by the wind. When the line is long enough the spider flips up and clings onto the silk thread with its legs and floats off. If there is not enough of a breeze to take off the spider will shimmy down the thread and back up again to create a loop, which can rise on the air like a balloon. To land the spider draws in its legs and the silk thread.

Spiderlings (baby spiders) and money spiders are the most common ballooners, a spider over 25 mg is too heavy to take off

The lines of silk the spiders use to balloon are called gossamer. (Possibly from “goose-summer”, a warm period of November , during which time geese were eaten. Warm autumn days provide the perfect conditions for spiders to balloon.) French for Gossamer is “Fils de la vierge”, German “Marienfaden” (our lady’s thread), Japanese “yukimukae” (ushering in snow)

Ballooning spiders have been found 4,300 m high attached to aircraft. Darwin watched them parachute onto HMS Beagle.
Paul Hillyard - the book of the spider

2183.  Wed Nov 26, 2003 12:05 pm Reply with quote

Molly - are you saying that all species of spiders can do this, or is this a particular species of ballooning spider? It'd be an excellent question when linked to Krakatoa in the way you have it.

2214.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 3:49 am Reply with quote

You might cross reference to Surtsey. The volcanic island the appeared off the S coast of Iceland in the 60s. There was a comprehensive study of the process of colonisation.

2380.  Fri Nov 28, 2003 8:25 pm Reply with quote

Juming Jack and I met a zoologist specialising in spiders this evening. Sure enough, spiders were the first to colonise Surtsey. All species of spider can do the balloon trick, and they have the ability to balloon into the stratosphere and so into the slipstream, so that in principle they could circumnavigate the planet. It is extremely parky up there, but the good news is that they can be frozen to -20 degrees and still survive.

2393.  Sat Nov 29, 2003 4:55 am Reply with quote

Ballooning spiders may be a contributory factor in some UFO sightings. Actually, come to think of it, imagine a colony of spiders out ballooning, all tangled up ... to a surprised pilot at high altitudes, it would look like a flying silver ball where the sunlight bounced off it. And it would probably get into the plane's slipstream and appear to be "following" the plane. And it probably wouldn't show up on radar, either!

That's just my speculation, but the connection has been made before:

One of the most tantalising types of alleged physical evidence for the reality of UFOs is the phenomenon which has come to be known as angel hair . This material is generally described as a white, fibrous substance, resembling spiders' webs, wool, or nylon. The filaments float down to earth and sometimes cover quite large areas of ground. Unfortunately the substance is unstable and appears to slowly sublime and disappear. It is said to burn like cellophane when ignited. Falls of angel hair generally coincide with UFO reports.

Among the earliest reports of this phenomenon were two sightings which occurred in France, in 1952. (1) At Oloron, on 17 October, at about 12.50 p.m., the headmaster of the lyc‚e there, together with his wife and children, witnessed a strange event. To the north they saw a fleecy cloud, of curious shape, floating along. Above it was a long, narrow cylinder, tilted at an angle of 45 degrees and slowly heading south-west, at an estimated altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 metres. The object was whitish in colour and its shape was quite distinct. Puffs of white smoke were coming from its top side. Some way ahead of the cylinder about 30 other objects were travelling on the same course. When viewed with field glasses, each of these objects was seen to have a red ball at the centre, surrounded by a yellowish ring. These objects travelled in pairs in short, swift zigzags. When two of them moved apart they seemed to be connected by a whitish trail. All of these objects left long trails which disintegrated and drifted slowly to the ground. For many hours afterwards trees, telephone wires and roofs were festooned with streamers of the mysterious substance.

The explainers-away were almost unanimous in attributing such reports to the activities of spiders, borne aloft by the wind and thermals on their gossamer threads and deposited many miles away. Although this theory convincingly explained some of the reports, it was obviously not possible to fit it to reports such as those from Oloron and Gaillac, even allowing for possible embellishment and exaggeration in the published accounts. Nevertheless, the pundits could think of no better rationalisation, so spiders' webs it had to be.

The Condon Report is not very enlightening on this topic. After mentioning the spider explanation it simply says: In other cases, the composition or origin of the angel's hair" is uncertain. (3)

Molly Cule
2538.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 5:48 am Reply with quote

The only American citizens killed by enemy action on US soil in WW2 were killed by balloon bombs, released in Japan and floated across the Atlantic.

The balloon bombs were called the FU-Go Weapon, they were 32 feet in diameter, filled with hydrogen and launched from the Japanese island of Honshu in revenge for the 1942 Doolittle Raids on Tokyo. From the autumn of 1944 more than 9,000 bomb balloons were sent to the U.S but only about 1,000 made the trip, landing all over - from Alaska to Mexico. They caused little damage since they fell on sparsely populated areas with damp ground – so few fires broke out.

The balloons were a feat of engineering, since hydrogen expands in warmth and contracts in the cool of night each balloon was fitted with an altimeter - when the balloon descended below 9 km the altimeter signalled the balloon to cut loose sandbags (carried on a wheel that dropped two bags at a time to keep the balloon balanced). When the balloon rose above 11.6 km the altimeter signalled a valve to blast out hydrogen. The control system worked for three days then exploded, the blast released the bombs and lit a fuse that hung from the balloon, 84 minutes later the fuse fired a flash bomb to destroy the balloon.

The balloons were made from ‘washi’, paper made from mulberry bushes, the paper was only produced in small pieces so had to be glued together with a paste from a root the Japanese call “devils tongue”. Most of the workers on the balloons were teenage girls who had no idea what they were working on.

The Americans found it hard to believe the balloons were coming from Japan, they thought they must be being launched from submarines near the U.S or from German POW camps in the US. The US Geological Survey investigated the sandbags and found diatoms and minerals from Japan that confirmed what seemed to be the impossible.

Six people were killed by one bomb, in Oregon; the bomb exploded as Elsie Mitchell and five children dragged the bomb from the woods. They were the only victims of the balloon bombs and the only US citizens killed on home ground during WW2.
S: wkp

2586.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 11:19 am Reply with quote

Balloon flies are related to dance flies. The male balloon fly makes the female a large white balloon to play with while they make love.

Source: Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson

Molly Cule
2931.  Mon Dec 08, 2003 12:24 pm Reply with quote

The first flight above Antarctica was made by Robert Falcon Scott in a hot air balloon, in 1901 (Feb4th). Scott went up in a balloon tethered to the ground in order to make observations from up high, he was the first person to glimpse the heart of Antarctica. Shackleton went up after him and took the first aerial photographs of Antarctica.

Molly Cule
3023.  Tue Dec 09, 2003 1:28 pm Reply with quote

Just so that the fact is posted not lost...

Edmond Cotteau, a Belgian biologist was the first to spot a spider on Krakatoa, he was visiting with a French government sponsored expedition six months after the explosion. He noted 'a microscopic spider' nestled between two rocks, 'This strange pioneer of the renovation was busy spinning its web!" hoping to be lucky enough to catch a fly. The spider must have travelled from either Java or Sumatra in a few hours to Handl's Bay, near Rakata on Kratakoa.

s - Krakatoa, the day the world exploded 27th August 1883. Simon Winchester.

3025.  Tue Dec 09, 2003 2:35 pm Reply with quote

Thinking about post 2586, we could ask 'Under what circumstances might you give a female a large white balloon to play with?'

According to Olivia Judson in the book cited in that post,

In many species, females will only mate with males bearing gifts. Males who can't produce the goods are rejected. Males bearing small gifts are often punished by not being allowed to copulate for long. This might explain why the hunting spider Pisaura mirabilis, the only spider known to give presents, takes the trouble to wrap them in silk. The more silk, the more time the female takes to feed, even when the meal itself is paltry. Perhaps the fancy gift wrapping persuades the female to overlook the meagerness of the offering.

In the case of the abovementioned balloon flies, why does the male offer the female this balloon?

Original research was published in Kessel, E. L. 1955. The mating habits of balloon flies (Diptera: Empididae). Syst. Zool. 4: 97-104.

Like many evolutionary sequences, this ritual seems to have become more complex over evolutionary time. Other species of the same family of dance flies, the Empiidae, to which the balloon family belongs, display mating behaviours that seem to point in the direction of the behaviour shown by the balloon fly.

Some species mate in a haphazard manner – males approach females, who sometimes mistake them for prey rather than potential mates and eat them – the ‘pick her up in the pub and risk getting your face slapped’ approach.

Other species avoid this hazard by distracting the female by offering her a prey item and then mating with her while she is consuming her meal – the ‘take a bottle of wine to her house while she cooks you dinner’ approach.

Some members of the species Hilara wrap the prey item in silken threads in order to subdue it before presenting it to the female – the ‘take her out for a slap-up meal’ approach.

More advanced members of the species Hilara create a complex silken balloon that is either empty or contains a piece of vegetation - the balloon itself becoming more important as a signal of courtship – the ‘give her expensive gifts’ approach (because the creation of the silken balloons takes it out of the male balloon fly, reproductively speaking, as it consumes a lot of energy).

Males can lose a lot of their mass in producing these gifts. According to Olivia Judson, in another insect species – the Mormon cricket – a male loses a quarter of his mass in producing his gifts to the female. Thus the presentation of the silk balloon is the reproductive equivalent of the ‘max out your credit card on her’ approach.

The balloon fly species Hilara sartor feeds on nectar, so the actual presentation of prey would be no use to the female. However, as a culmination of this sequence of evolutionary events, the presentation of the carefully woven (but empty) balloon is a species recognition cue.

(Sources for the above - and )

The University of Winnipeg's website makes a very good analogy:

The ritual has evolved into bringing something that was once associated with food. It is as if, over evolutionary time, a suitor wooed a lady with diamonds, then with a box containing diamonds and finally with an empty box.

4669.  Sat Jan 17, 2004 10:08 am Reply with quote

The phrase 'when the balloon goes up' is a relic of the 1914-18 War, when the first visible sign of an operation was the sending up of observation balloons from Royal Navy ships fitted with them.

6807.  Wed Apr 14, 2004 10:24 am Reply with quote

For Sale: One hot-air balloon.

Price: Negotiable.

Condition: good.

Contact: Stephen Hawking at:

Revised posting: Mr. Hawking has since sold his balloon. The link above no longer exists.

10471.  Fri Nov 12, 2004 6:06 am Reply with quote

Query; What did the first spiders on Krakatoa et al live on? Each other?

10477.  Fri Nov 12, 2004 7:23 am Reply with quote

Frances - where you been?

I don't know the answer, but it might be "nothing" because they only arrived by chance and literally out of the blue, so I suppose they were quite unlikely to survive.

10656.  Sun Nov 14, 2004 4:52 am Reply with quote

I've been to London to look at the Queen!

Well, no. I've been to Florida, on two coach tours - I like coach tours, I'm terrified of driving in the USA, on the right amid all the hopped-up drivers, and it's good to have somebody else sorting out hotels and luggage and so on. I'm glad I went - now I know I don't want to go back. Very flat - the countryside, not the people, and some of the visits were very interesting. After a week in Orlando, I'm parked up to the eyeballs. But I need hills, or at least a bit of slope in the landscape, not all horizontal. There was about 30 degrees too much sky for my spiritual ease, and all you could see from the bus most of the time was the front rank of miles of rather hurricane-battered trees. Not inspiring scenery. It's nice to go away, but it's nice to come home.


It's nice to be back, too, to bother all you serious, scientific eggheads with silly questions.


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