Tennessee Town Awakens to Spider Invasion

The arachnids involved in the takeover of a Memphis suburban neighborhood were likely harmless sheetweb weaver spiders. . (Photo: EuroNews)

Remember last week's story about a course at the London zoo that helps people overcome their fear of spiders? Something tells us the residents of North Memphis, Tennessee, might want to consider enrolling ASAP.

The suburban town awoke last week to an incredible sight: millions of spiders all banding together to create a web stretching over a half-mile long.

“I’ve never seen anything like this," terrified resident Frances Ward told a local news station. "It’s like a horror movie. They’re in the air, flying everywhere. They all on the house, on the side of the windows.

The spider influx reportedly started in the fields surrounding the neighborhood but quickly spread to streets and homes. It's unclear whether they just ran out of room or simply saw an opportunity to mess with the local human population. Either way, there's nothing to fear according to Steve Reichling, a Memphis Zoo curator. He says the web phenomenon is simply a mass dispersal of juveniles, likely sheetweb weaver spiders, and that their presence indicates a healthy environment.

"I would not want to live in a world where such things were no longer possible," he told the news station. "The presence of these spiders tells us that all is well with nature at that location."

Sheetweb spiders, harmless to humans, are known for the occasional mass migration. Members of the family Linyphiidae, there are more than 4,300 known species worldwide. A big reason for their international dispersal has to do with their unique form of preferred transportation, a process known as ballooning. This involves the spider releasing a few strands of silk thread to form a triangle-shaped parachute that catches the wind and sends them skyward.

While most journeys end after only a few miles, some spiders manage to catch thermals that take them into the jet stream, allowing them to colonize far-flung areas of the globe.