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A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
When record rains flooded Launceston, the second-largest city in Australia’s state of Tasmania, the local small black spiders staged a “mass ballooning event” to keep above the rising floodwaters. They coated the foliage of trees with enormous blankets of silk, over an area of about a half a mile.
Local resident Ken Puccetti, who photographed the webs, told Guardian Australia that the silk was so dense his attempts to photograph it ended with his shoes, legs, and arms covered with silk — and the occasional spider.
The rally of high-flying spiders sent out masses of silk strands, which act “a little bit like a hot-air balloon,” according to University of Akron arachnologist Todd Blackledge, which is where the name for the event came from. The spiders then ride the silk where the wind takes them. This method is used by the spiders to evacuate suddenly inhospitable areas, but also to migrate, keeping their population from becoming too dense in one area.
In 2012, spiderwebs blanketed the countryside of Wagga Wagga, in eastern Australia, after a week of record rain forced the spiders — and 13,000 people — to flee their homes. Mass ballooning events have been recorded not only in Australia, but in United States, Great Britain and Pakistan.
Robert Matthews, professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Georgia, says that silk has been a “huge evolutionary breakthrough. This is one more example of why spiders have been a successful group.”
We might learn something from these resilient spiders.
Considering our planet’s rising oceans, perhaps we should start including skydiving equipment in emergency survival kits.
- “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman — http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45473
- National Geographic Weird and Wild/Michael Greshko
- Tasmania ballooning event Photo by Ken Puccetti