Humankind has always been somewhat fascinated with space, and we’ve sent all kinds of things out through the atmosphere to see how the change in environment would affect them. Numerous animals have spent time orbiting the planet, including everything from dogs to fish. NASA even sent Nephila clavipes, golden orb weaver spiders, into space, and the results were shocking.
NASA scientists wanted to explore the effects of microgravity on the spiders’ ability to weave webs. They launched the arachnids into orbit onboard the Endeavor on May 16, 2011, and the scientists back on Earth learned quite a lot from the experiment.
Golden orb weaver spiders were selected partially because they rebuild their webs daily, so their activities could be observed more often than other species that don’t recreate the sticky structures at such a pace.
Initially, the spiders struggled with the lack of gravity, weaving three-dimensional and chaotic webs. However, after just a few days in the environment, they began to adapt, constructing webs that closely resembled those they produce on Earth.
There was one distinct difference, according to a report on Ranker. Usually, golden orb weaver spiders create asymmetrical webs, with a significant portion located in a particular direction. But, in space, their webs were predominately symmetrical.
NASA brought along Drosophila melanogaster, or common fruit flies, to feed the spiders. This also gave them an opportunity to observe the arachnids’ hunting habits in their new environment.
The hunting habits of the spiders did change. On Earth, the spiders tend to face downward, allowing them to use gravity to quickly attack prey below them.
However, in a low gravity environment, they began attacking in any direction, as they weren’t hindered by the force of gravity as they would be when hunting on terra firma.
Classrooms across the country also assisted with the research. Students were tasked with keeping an observing both fruit flies and golden orb weaver spiders, giving the NASA scientists a strong control group as they monitored the spiders in space.