Sunday, 14 December 2014

Wagga Wagga & Pakistan

Eastern Australia is a relatively dry place. In-fact, within eastern Australia there are frequent water shortages and water usage limitations. On the whole it is a dry and arid place, which regularly screams out for water like a thirsty child on a hot day. Yet a few years ago an unexpected rainfall materialised. The skies opened and the water started to pour from the clouds; a torrent of rain gushed from above, relentlessly. This rain fell for a week, and the flood waters it created from the Murrumbidgee river in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, forced 13,000 people from their homes and caused approximately $530 million AUD in damage. However, this torrential rain did not only displace thousands of humans, it forced an insurmountable number of ground-dwelling spiders to vacate their homes and search for drier, safer, higher ground. Ground, which had previously been - and still is - occupied by humans. Now, Wagga Wagga is a haven for Entomologists, and nothing short of a real life nightmare for Arachnophobes.

The number of spiders that rapidly vacated their homes in the search for higher ground in Wagga Wagga is unknown. However, one local named Mr Lane has estimated the number to be within the millions. For the sake of creeping out the arachnophobes amongst us; if one million spiders hastily left their homes in the search for higher ground when the flood waters appeared, this means that within Wagga Wagga, there are approximately 8 million spider legs trotting around, and roughly 8 million eyeballs gazing upon the surroundings. The webs these spiders have cast are to be found alongside Horse Shoe road - roughly ten minutes drive from the town centre -, and are so abundant, they literally cover the ground like snow. The millions of individual strands of silk that have been cast, sit over bushes, plants and grass like mammoth sticky blankets. They have literally covered anything and everything they can - so don't stand still for too long if you visit. However, some of the spiders have returned to the water's edge, and simply use this gigantic silk trampoline that they have cast as an arachnid motorway, which enables them to move quickly across difficult terrain, should the rain waters return.

The two main species of spider considered to be calling this giant Wagga Wagga spiderweb their home, are sheet-web spiders and wolf spiders. There are various species of sheet-web spiders, some of which are very small: 4mm (0.2 inches) in size; and some of which are very large: 15cm (6 inches) across. As for wolf spiders, we are much more familiar with these in the UK. Wolf spiders are the horrid, hairy 'big' spiders that we find in our UK households. However, within Australia wolf spiders can grow up to 8cm (3.1 inches) across, and as the name suggests, they have a wolf-like appearance. The good news for the Wagga Wagga residents, however, is that these spiders are considered to be 'probably not' dangerous to people, and the majority of the ones that occupy Wagga Wagga, are small. Finally, one last time, to shine some additional light on the situation, we shall refer to the wise words of Mr Lane and his official opinion on the matter, '[The spiders] are harmless. They're not funnel webs. I think they're harmless anyway, I hope they're harmless - they were heading up my way.'

It would be comforting to think that this is an isolated incident. However, I am afraid to advise you that it is not. A similar situation arose in Sindh, south-east Pakistan, where the rain waters and flooding caused the resident spiders to run for the trees. Now, the trees are cocooned in silk, like giant balloons sitting along a river bank. Although this is a rather creepy sight, a lot of good has come from the situation. Due to the new elevated position of the spiderwebs, and the abundant thriving spider numbers, the mosquito population has dropped considerably. It has been proposed that this sudden drop in mosquito population is due to the spiders eating them all. Consequently, a large reduction in mosquitoes has directly influenced the malaria infection rate. Meaning the number of diagnosed malaria sufferers has dropped significantly, and therefore, life expectancy in this area has risen.

Oh, and one last thing...

What's that running up your leg?

A sheet-web spider. This is the most common spider within the Wagga Wagga spiderwebs. However, most are much smaller than this example.

The spiderweb cocooned trees of Sindh, Pakistan.

A Wagga Wagga, spiderweb covered field. There are so many spiderwebs, it looks as if the field is covered in snow.

A close-up shot of a bush in Wagga Wagga.

- Until the next Butterfly...