The world’s first “Spidernaut,” Nefertiti the jumping spider, was sent into space to live on the International Space Station for 100 days at a zero-gravity environment to test if it was possible for a jumping spider to adapt to a new hunting environment.
This genus idea was brought forward by 18-year-old Amr Mohamed, winning the YouTube Space Lab contest. The contest invited young minds aged 14-18 from around the world to submit a two-minute video suggesting science experiments that could be done aboard a space station. Amr was curious if a jumping spider could adapt at zero-gravity environments for hunting and then readapt to normal gravity back on Earth. As jumping spiders can adjust their trajectory on Earth to compensate for gravity, would it be possible for the spider to realize they wouldn’t have to compensate for gravity anymore?
The experiment was a complete success! Nefertiti adjusted her hunting and feeding behaviour in the microgravity and 100 days later she returned to Earth, readapting to her usual hunting behaviour. She now lives the rest of her life in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C, in their Insect Zoo where all can visit her.*
Before the arachnophobics shiver and run at the thought of this, I myself have a huge fear of spiders and absolutely love this. We know monkeys and dogs have gone to space, but we don’t hear as much about non-mammals. She had to adapt and learn this new environment in order to survive, and almost miraculously, she did.
Nefertiti’s little adventure gives a sort of breath of hope for adapting to new life and environments. If the worst should come and Earth is no longer suitable to live in, there is a small hope that most, if not all humans, could adapt to a new environment in space if a spider could. And we have the security (or fear) of knowing that at least jumping spiders can come along with us, too.
*Editor’s Note: It is with great sadness that we add that Nefertiti died at the Smithsonian on December 3rd, 2012, but her body has been preserved as part of the museum’s specimen collection.