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Spidey’s secret revealed? Scientists discover real spiders use electricity to ‘fly’

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Jul 7, 2018, 12:01 PM EDT (Updated)

We’re pretty sure Peter Parker would keep a poker face if the question were put to him, but after seeing a new report that unveils the secret to real-world spiders’ mind-boggling ability to traverse miles and miles on nothing more than an electrical charge and a wisp of silk, we’re really wondering: Does Spider-Man owe his parkour prowess to something as pedestrian as physics?

Via Motherboard, researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered that the presence of an electrical current is one of the contingent factors that allow spiders to use their long-documented, poorly understood “ballooning” technique to stay airborne... well, for miles.

Publishing their findings in Current Biology, scientists Erica Morley and Daniel Robert explained how they used electrical currents on test spiders from the Erigone genus to demonstrate that, sure enough, when the air is electrically charged, the spiders go up. When the charged is switched off, the spiders take a dive. 

If the science behind the finding is too sticky a technical web to unweave, the proof’s in the viewing, as this crazy video, which shows how vital electricity is to making the whole endeavor a success, reveals.

While electricity appears to be the magic ingredient (researchers stop short of definitively saying so), other forces have to be in place as well. Thunderstorms tap the energy of the Earth’s atmospheric potential gradient (APG), the field of electricity that lies between the surface and the solar-irradiated ionosphere, to sustain an electrical charge stable enough to provide the needed lift, evidently cuing the spiders when it’s time to deploy their silk-spun balloons.

“Altogether, the evidence gathered reveals an electric driving force that is sufficient for ballooning,” study summarizes. “These results also suggest that the APG, as additional meteorological information, can reveal the auspicious time to engage in ballooning.”

In other words, it looks as if spider sense is really a thing. But we’re still holding our breath for the discovery that’ll show us how to shoot silk from our wrists so we can catch some air of our own.