Last month I suggested readers be on the lookout for that spider webby stuff. Did you see any?
Unfortunately, during the month of September I didn't see any at all. But there's still time in October, before the rains come. Usually I look for a warmish night with a wind from the northeast. The next morning is when I would expect to see a few (or many) short (or long) strands of webby stuff lodged in the dry grass or on a good year, festooning trees and fences.
The photo accompanying this article is not the webby stuff! What you see is a long staple of sheep's wool and in the background you see thistledown stuck to tarweed plants. The green plant with the purple flower is the thistle plant itself.
On the Internet you can find many images and accounts of this mysterious fluff. Just do a search on floating spider webby stuff or angel hair. As I pointed out last month some of the images do not look at all like our local webby stuff. And some of the accounts are...interesting.
UFO proponents claim that this material is of alien origin--perhaps a byproduct of spacecraft propulsion--and that it disappears completely if you try to gather it to study it. A few years ago I mustered up the courage to collect some in a plastic cup. You can roll it into a ball and it does compact, but it does not disappear. My sample gathered dust until I threw it out.
The scientific explanation that this fiber is produced by spiders using the wispy threads of spun silk as transportation seems most plausible. But I wonder what kind of giant spider makes those yards long webs made of many fibers that can be seen every so often? (Scary thought!) Why have I never seen any trace of spider or other creature in any of these webs? Did they spin them, float off and then abandon them without a trace?
I suppose we can look back at the thistle plant in the picture and think about this. Who would expect the downy fluff to be the mode of seed dispersal for the thistle plant if you didn't know where it came from? The thistledown gives enough lift to the seed to get it up and away from the plant before the seed drops to the ground and the thistledown floats off on its merry way!
If for some reason you don't see any of the spider webby stuff this year there's always plenty of thistledown!