How spiders can fly: Researchers find they make near-invisible paragliders

Researchers may have finally solved the mystery of how adult spiders can ‘fly’.

It was previously believed that spiders used one or two silk fibers to catch the wind, but scientists from the Technical University of Berlin, Germany discovered that the arachnids actually make ‘paragliders’ from dozens of strands woven together.

Many kinds of spiders have been found nearly three miles in the air and can travel hundreds of miles using their paraglider.


German researchers studied crab spiders to understand how the arachnids ‘fly’. They make ‘paragliders’ from dozens of thin silk fibers to catch the wind

‘The fibres are very hard to observe with our naked eyes,’ said aerodynamic engineer Moonsung Cho to New Scientist.

‘This is why, until now, we have not been able to explain the flight of ‘ballooning’ spiders.’

Baby spiders are well-known to ‘balloon’ away to avoid being eaten by their siblings, but researchers were unsure how larger, heavier spiders accomplished the same feat.

Cho and his colleagues studied adult crab spiders that can weigh 16 to 20 milligrams. 

They raised the arachnids in a lab, and also captured some from Berlin’s Lilienthal Park.

They captured the spiders’ journeys on video.

They found the tiny animals first anchored themselves to the platform, and then lifted a leg to test out the wind.

They then spin out ballooning fibers that are up to 13 feet long and make triangular ‘sheets’. 

Two of the fibers are thicker, but they then create 50 to 60 thinner fibers at just 200 nanometers thick, nearly invisible to the naked eye.

The thinner fibers help lift the heavy crab spiders into the air.


Recent research has claimed that a fear of spiders is a survival trait written into our DNA.

Dating back hundreds of thousands of years, the instinct to avoid arachnids developed as an evolutionary response to a dangerous threat, the academics suggest.

It could mean that arachnophobia, one of the most crippling of phobias, represents a finely tuned survival instinct.

And it could date back to early human evolution in Africa, where spiders with very strong venom have existed millions of years ago.

Study leader Joshua New, of Columbia University in New York, said: ‘A number of spider species with potent, vertebrate specific venoms populated Africa long before hominoids and have co-existed there for tens of millions of years.

‘Humans were at perennial, unpredictable and significant risk of encountering highly venomous spiders in their ancestral environments.’

However, they also observed that sometimes the spiders cut the fibers and released them if the wind conditions weren’t right.

For crab spiders, wind has to be less than 7.3 miles per hour 

After lift-off, the spiders cut safety line tethering them to the ground. 

‘Most winged insects flap their wings to build a vortex of air to lift their bodies and make them float,’ Cho said to Gizmodo.

However, the silks are so thin that they use the viscosity of the air to remain airborn.  

‘From the viewpoint of spider silk, the air is like honey.’