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Yahoo! News, March 7, 2012

Thousands of spiders blanket Australian farm after escaping flood

By Eric Pfeiffer

Check out photos of the blanketed town in the original article.

Thousands of normally solitary wolf spiders have blanketed an Australian farm after fleeing a rising flood.

Reuters reports that the flooding has forced more than 8,000 Australian (human) residents from their homes in the city of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. But for every temporarily displaced person, it appears several spiders have moved in to fill the void.

"What we've seen here is a type of wolf spider," Owen Seeman, an arachnid expert at Queensland Museum, told Reuters. "They are trying to hide away (from the waters)."

The Australian Museum's entomology collections manager Graham Milledge told Reuters that there's even a term for the phenomenon, "ballooning," and that it is typical behavior for spiders forced to escape rising waters.

You can watch a video here of researchers on the hunt for ballooning spiders from the safety of a hot air balloon.

Thankfully for local residents, the occupying arachnids are not likely to set up permanent residence, a la the 1977 William Shatner clunker "Kingdom of the Spiders." Weather reports say the flood waters in Wagga Wagga have begun receding, meaning that locals will soon be returning to their homes and the wolf spiders will also be returning to their natural underground habitats.

And it turns out the spiders are actually doing quite a bit of good while setting up shop above ground. The spiders are feasting on mosquitoes and other insect populations that have boomed with the increased moisture brought about by the rising waters.

"The amount of mosquitoes around would be incredible because of all this water," Taronga Zoo spider keeper Brett Finlayson told the Sydney Morning Herald. "The spiders don't pose any harm at all. They are doing us a favor. They are actually helping us out."

As amazing as this display may be, it's not the first time photographers have captured massive displaced spider migrations. One of the most famous pictures of 2011, above, showed millions of spiders and other insects in Pakistan that had formed massive web clusters in trees to escape rising floodwaters.

"It was largely spiders," Russell Watkins, U.K. Department for International Development, told National Geographic. "Certainly, when we were there working, if you stood under one of these trees, dozens of small, very, very tiny spiders would just be dropping down onto your head."

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton