Ballooning, A Unique Experience
© Copyright 2023 by Dianne Honey
Photo courtesy of the author.
Sitting on the back veranda in the pale winter sunshine, I saw the swollen river burst its banks.
The new white streak which appeared amongst the brown and green of the land below me was the beginning of the flood waters. The flood water began to creep slowly and relentlessly over the land filling every drain, depression and crack in the dry earth. About four hours later, in the closing part of the afternoon the flood waters reached the lowest point of our property and began to meander towards our dam to fill and overwhelm it.
The birds flew in, squawking and swooping down, following the edges of the slow moving water to catch and eat the insects, crickets and spiders while the frogs rejoiced in their new waterways with their croaking songs.
The next morning my view was of a lake, which had covered all the lowest places on the flood plains and was advancing up the surrounding slope upon which the houses were built. There was still considerable space between the houses and the flood water for further water to flow into it if the river continued to rise. I breathed a sigh of relief!
As interesting as this was the best of nature was yet to come!
After a few days I was privileged to witness an incredible phenomenon called ‘ballooning’ which enables the spiders to move safely from one place to another after such a disaster.
The wee ground dwelling spiders who had left their sodden homes and who had climbed onto higher foliage or grasses began to spin gossamer spiderwebs which then caught the breeze allowing the spiders to land on higher and drier ground. This was their incredible safety mechanism for escaping the relentless and dangerous flood waters.
Over a short period of time the landscape surrounding the flood waters was covered with silver gossamer threads, hanging from posts, fences, barb wire, bushes, trees and grasses and was billowing in the gentle breeze.
Great swatches of the spiderwebs were found hanging off the trees lining the roads with snaking tentacles moving across the roads with no regard for the traffic. People came to a halt to view the splendour of the spiderweb blankets which covered everything in front of them.
That evening a brilliant yellow sunset came and the silver gossamer spiderwebs turned into beautiful golden threads and the sun reflected off the flood waters. It was stunning!
As I hadn’t seen this natural occurrence before I was keen to take some photos of the spiders and their beautiful creations of lacey gossamer threads.
I walked through the spiderweb free grass, heading towards the magnificent sight that lay in front of me. As I moved closer I tried to avoid crushing the wee spiders with my feet, but this proved to be a bit difficult with my size ten feet.
As the gossamer threads billowed in the breeze I scrutinised the ones caught around the fence posts on our property. There, sprinkled through the spiderwebs I could see thousands and thousands of tiny moving black dots which were the spiders giving the gossamer threads its lacey appearance. It was amazing!
Positioning myself close to a fence post I took numerous photos of their beautiful handmade lace. I was particularly enamoured by a piece which stretched around a seven foot post and draped downwards to the dry earth creating a beautiful silver cloak around the post while in the background was the shimmering flood waters.
Next I focused on the wee spiders who were running over everything including my hands which I’d put too close to them! Withdrawing my hands and brushing them off, I quickly took some photos while trying to avoid them landing on me. They were so tiny and moving quickly, I had trouble in adjusting the focus on my camera to capture them.
When I did capture some photos of the tiny spiders, I could see they were smaller than a drawing pin including the legs and it reminded me of the tiny ants. Although the spiders looked mainly black, I thought there were brownish markings on their bodies. Once I’d finished taking photos of this unique event, I turned around and headed back to my relatively spider free home.
I remember the tiny money spiders from my childhood when it was considered lucky if one ran across you! That I could cope with, however I wasn’t up to having hundreds of spiders running over me, that was beyond my comfort level.
From my research I found these minute spiders are known as Striphidiidae, sheetweb or money spiders and they spend their lives living on and in the ground. They typically live for twelve months and are approximately 8mm in length. Members of this family are endemic to New Zealand and Australia only.
I was concerned that our home would be invaded by the wee spiders and kept a look out for this, but eventually my fears were allayed when I realised the beautiful gossamer threads wouldn’t be encroaching into the house paddock.
Once the floodwaters receded the wee spiders returned to their homes in the ground to live the remainder of their lives in peace. While I enjoyed looking at their beautiful gossamer spiderwebs, they didn’t like living on them due to exposure to predators and the inclement weather.
The silver threads hung around for almost a week. During this time there were some cold days with early morning mists. The delicate looking gossamer threads had the early morning dew settle on them which only magnified the density of the threads. The ground was so white it now looked like we’d had a snow fall overnight!
This spectacular and unique experience is probably going to be a once in a lifetime experience for me. It’s one I will never forget. It was a stunningly beautiful example of what nature and her wild animals; dare I say an animal that a lot of people dislike can produce in their endeavour to stay safe.
Dianne Honey lives in Sale, Victoria, Australia and is a published author. She enjoys writing short stories both fiction and non fiction. Her stories have won awards in the Country Women’s Association of Victoria Inc, State Literature competition and the Noorat Agriculture Show. She has been published by an online magazine, Aftermath and has had two articles published in Grass Roots, an environmental and sustainability magazine. In 2019 she self published a book titled ‘An Anthology of Short Stories.’ For fun she writes and edits community newsletters and is a keen follower of Australian Writers Centre monthly Furious Fiction competition where she contributes a 500 word story. As well as being a keen photographer, she is the social media person for various community groups posting on Facebook and Instagram. In her spare time she enjoys gardening, reading, writing and cooking.