Residents of Farnham, England, went into an apocalyptic panic last week when a cloud of bees thick enough to block out the sun covered their town for 15 minutes. The thought of that is almost enough to make residents of Goulburn, Australia, feel a little grateful that all they had to deal with recently was a rain of baby spiders that covered everything with webs and baby spiders.
The bees were captured on video by Rob Swift, who saw the sky-darkening swarm out his office window and said it brought business in the town to a halt.
I first noticed when a few bees came in through the window. Then our receptionist called us and said we should shut the windows. The sky was black with them … It was very bizarre. It was virtually silent. You would have thought it would be buzzing like crazy. It was quite eerie.
Eerie and bizarre but not “unnatural or unusual for this time of the year,” said Gill Maclean of the British Beekepers Association. She blamed it on an overcrowded hive where half the bees decided to follow a new queen to more spacious quarters. That sounds comforting until you realize it means there’s another half of a sky-blackening hive that just found out the new queen took all the good workers and may set out after them.
Meanwhile, residents of Goulburn in New South Wales woke up to a scene that looked like snow until they had a cup of coffee and realized the white stuff covering everything outside was spider webs filled with millions of baby spiders. Here’s the way Goulburn’s Ian Watson described it:
The whole place was covered in these little black spiderlings and when I looked up at the sun it was like this tunnel of webs going up for a couple of hundred meters into the sky.
What apocalypse caused this spider rain? One reason could be migration. Baby spiders release silk streamers that catch the wind and carry them up to three kilometers high and many kilometers away before they land. Goulburn may have just been the unlucky recipient of a high concentration of baby spider landings due to wind patterns.
Another reason could be bad weather. Heavy rains can drown spiders on the ground so they release silk that carries them out of the water to branches and plants where they ride out the storm. When there’s millions of spiders in a field, it creates an “angel hair” effect which covers the ground, buildings and vegetation.
It doesn’t appear that the baby spiders that invaded Goulburn are dangerous to humans but they may be hungry after the trip and could devour the local crops.
I like natural, scientific explanations for these mass insect occurrences, but when the numbers go off the charts, I’m like the bees in saying, “Hmmm.”