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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gossamer adding spiders' airy touch to fall

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Strands of gossamer more noticeable in the Putnam County area this year
Putnam County appears to have been invaded recently by a force so minute that the average person driving down the road probably wouldn't notice.

It seems the area has been especially hard hit this year by baby spiders, called spiderlings, as evidenced by innumerable strands of sticky silk that cling to everything from street signs to power lines and cornfields to tree limbs.

A few local residents have expressed interest in finding out where the webs come from and why they are so noticeable this year.

Purdue University professor of entomology and bug expert Tom Turpin offered some explanation.

He explained that when baby spiders hatch, they produce long strands of silk, called gossamer, and they use that silk to float through the air, from place to place, in a process called ballooning.

"This is how they disperse themselves," Turpin said of the spiders.

As the spiders ride the wind on their silk, they are often caught on things such as tree branches, cornstalks, houses, cars and even power lines.

The phenomenon is more pronounced in some years and less in others and it's not exactly known why. Outbreaks in a given area are not uncommon, he said.

DePauw University biology professor Wade Hazel offered some information on why the webs are so prominent this year.

He surmised that this was a productive year for insects and since spiders eat insects, in turn there was an overabundance of spiders.

Turpin said he and a fellow professor were commenting on the spider webs recently in the Lafayette area but did not know Putnam County, some 50 miles to the south, was experiencing the same thing.

The activity is somewhat typical for this time of year.

Turpin wasn't able to speculate how large of an area may have been affected this year, however, he pointed out that there can be literally thousands of spiderlings occupying 1 square yard.

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