Millions of spiders seemingly dropped from above earlier this month in the town that is about 125 miles southwest of Sydney, the Goulburn Post reported. It quoted a local resident, Ian Watson, who reportedly posted on the Goulburn Community Forum page:
"Anyone else experiencing this 'Angel Hair' or maybe aka millions of spiders falling from the sky right now? I’m 10 minutes out of town and you can clearly see hundreds of little spiders floating along with their webs and my home is covered in them. Someone call a scientist!"
The scenario, nightmarish as it may be for those who suffer from arachnophobia, is entirely plausible, experts said.
"It's a phenomenal event, but it’s not unprecedented,” said Rick Vetter, a retired research associate of entomology at the University of California, Riverside.
The main reason this happens is because of a dispersal technique called ballooning, Vetter said. Ballooning occurs after a mother spider lays her eggs and they hatch.
The Crab spider, or Xysticus audax, exhibits behavior prior to ballooning in the video below.
“[The babies] want space to themselves, you got 1,000 brothers and sisters sitting right around you, you’re not going to go close and make a web -- there’s too much competition,” Vetter said.
That’s when the babies climb off the ground to something like the top of a fence post, they release silk and the updraft carries them away.
While ballooning happens often, mass ballooning like the one reported in Australia doesn't. In cases like this, it’s multiple mothers, a big population of spiders, and maybe even more than one species, according to Mike Draney, an arachnologist and biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
The weather plays a big factor in an event like this, Draney said.
“It can’t be too windy and there needs to be warm rising air currents,” he said.
Draney also pointed out that people most likely don’t have to worry about these baby spiders.
“Spiders can’t bite humans until they get to be a certain size,” Draney said. “When spiders are born, they’re small and can’t break human skin. I’d be very surprised to hear any ballooning spiders can bite.”
And that may be reassuring to arachnophobes -- or not so much.