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Is There Really a Highway in the Sky? Who Uses It Besides Birds and Planes?

Is There Really a Highway in the Sky? Who Uses It Besides Birds and Planes?

By Bill Willis and Bill Steinmetz

June 20, 2018

Is There Really a Highway in the Sky? Who Uses It Besides Birds and Planes?

  • The wind and air currents are responsible for dispersing small insects great distances
  • It doesn’t take a bad storm to pick up small organisms if they’ve got the flying bug
  • The majority of insects survive high flying without severe injuries
  • The insects found at the highest elevations are bumble bees at 18,000 feet and a single termite at 19,000 feet
ladybug flies to new heights to catch a current
Ladybug flies to new heights to catch a current

When asked to define highflying objects, the responses are usually airplanes, birds, and satellites. What about objects much smaller like insects and spiders? Discounting dirt, pollen, or storm debris, there are animals taking this high road, invisible to the naked eye, and on purpose. People daily share a bio zone with numerous insects and spiders, but what about above that bio zone where the birds and planes fly?

How High Can Insects Fly?

Bumblebees have been discovered above 18,000 feet on Mount Everest and can still fly if subjected to air at 29,500 feet. The termite has been observed at 19,000 feet.

Scientists have collected locusts flying at heights of 14,764 feet; true bugs, stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies at altitudes over 16,404 feet; flies and butterflies over 19,685 feet, according to Michael Dillon, a researcher with the Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming.Some of these animals are involved in mass migrations across countries. These movements may have trillions of individuals with both prey and predators, that can have major impacts on ecosystems.

spider using silk to lift into the air
Photo courtesy of

This article was inspired by the National Public Radio, July 15, 2010, Morning Edition entitled Look Up! The Billion-Bug Highway You Can't See, with Travel The Invisible Highway Video of insects and spiders carried high into the air. Credit: Benjamin Arthur and Robert Krulwich.

The transcript of NPR interview with Robert Krulwich, Jason Chapman, May Berenbaum, and Matt Greenstone, July 15, 2010 • 12:03 a.m. EST.

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