Look Up! The air above us is alive with billions of tiny organisms called "aeroplankton" just like the plankton in the oceans. Hundreds of feet above the forested valley floor the nearly horizontal rays of the setting sun briefly illuminate this amazing atmospheric soup for just a few minutes. Some of this soup consists of tiny insects and spiders that bats and birds eat. It is always there carried on the air currents, but is rarely seen except under unique circumstances such as this.
Aeroplankton (or aerial plankton) are tiny lifeforms that float and drift in the air, carried by the current of the wind; they are the atmospheric analogue to oceanic plankton.
Most of the living things that make up aeroplankton are very small to microscopic in size, and many can be difficult to identify because of their tiny size. Scientists can collect them for study in traps and sweep nets from aircraft, kites or balloons.
The aeroplankton comprises numerous microbes, including viruses, about 1000 different species of bacteria, around 40,000 varieties of fungi, and hundreds of species of protists, algae, mosses and liverworts that live some part of their life cycle as aeroplankton, often as spores, pollen, and wind-scattered seeds.
A large number of small animals, mainly arthropods (such as insects and spiders), are also carried upwards into the atmosphere by air currents and may be found floating several thousand feet up. Aphids, for example, are frequently found at high altitudes.
Many species of spiders deliberately use the wind to propel themselves. The spider will find a vantage point (such as a branch, fence or surface) and, pointing its abdomen upward, eject fine threads of silk from its spinnerets. At some point, the force exerted by moving air upon the silk threads is great enough to launch the spider into the air. This is called ballooning. Such ballooning spiders (e.g. Linyphiidae) are capable of drifting many miles away from where they started. The flexibility of their silk draglines can aid the aerodynamics of their flight, causing the spiders to drift an unpredictable and sometimes long distance.
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