It’s not quite a world wide web—but the spiders of Aitoliko in Greece have made a good start in covering their corner of the globe. Thick white spider webs blanket the coastal trees, bushes, and low vegetation of the western Greek town’s shoreline. The spider invasion won’t last forever. But for now it’s keeping mosquitos and other pests at bay.
Sticky white webs extend for about three hundred yards along the shoreline of Aitoliko. That town is built on an artificial island in a salt lagoon about 150 miles west of Athens. The webs are the handiwork of the Tetragnatha spider.
Tetragnatha spiders are a genus of spiders that contains hundreds of species. They’re commonly called “stretch spiders.” That’s because Tetragnathas can elongate their bodies by pulling their four front legs forward and their four back legs back. That makes these spiders appear less sprawling—and allows them to hide on narrow leaves or blades of grass.
Like other spiders, God created the Tetragnatha to make its web by extruding “silk” from silk-spinning organs called “spinnerets.” The Tetragnatha’s complex and sometimes large webs help these arachnids catch and hold their prey. The dense webbing also provides cover for them as they mate.
Scientists believe unusual weather in Greece caused this year’s gauzy spectacle. Biologist Maria Chatzaki is a professor and researcher in Greece. She says high temperatures and ample humidity helped bring about ideal conditions for spiders.
Another factor also contributed to 2018’s spider population explosion: bugs. Experts say lake fly numbers have rocketed in the weather conditions. Spiders fancy the flies. So with food a-plenty, they have reproduced quickly to take full advantage of the feast. Spurred into overdrive by a bounty of insects, thousands of little spiders and their accompanying webs have literally covered the area.
“It’s as if the spiders are taking advantage of these conditions and are having a kind of a party,” scientist Chatzaki says. Knowing that the spiders are eating the insects helps make their blanketing webs more welcome to Aitoliko residents.
As creepy as they seem, Tetragnatha spiders and their webs aren’t dangerous to humans. And Chatzaki doesn’t believe the thick webs will damage Aitoliko’s plant life.
She says, “The spiders will have their party and will soon die.”