Spiders in Space

Space spiders build webs in an unusual way

In zero gravity, spiders’ webs look a lot different than on Earth.

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Marilla Van Der Knoop / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Earth-bound spiders spin their webs with the center of the web offset towards the upper edge. These spiders are always facing down.

Artëm Zdanov / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Scientists wanted to know: Would spiders build their webs differently in zero-gravity?

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We can’t grow spiders in the vacuum of space, but luckily we do have an entire laboratory orbiting above our heads.

That’s the International Space Station, orbiting Earth about 250 miles up, at about 5 miles per second.

Back in 2011, a team of scientists sent two spiders up to the ISS in a special habitat — complete with webcam — and observed two similar spiders on Earth to see how the webs differed in space vs on the ground.

In a new paper published in Science of Nature, the team describes how it analyzed 14,500 images of the space-bound spiders building their webs.

The scientists noticed that in zero-gravity, the webs looked a lot more symmetrical and the spiders didn’t always face down.

The team noticed something different when the spiders’ enclosure was illuminated by a lamp, too.

Under light, the space spiders oriented themselves downwards — like on Earth.

In the absence of gravity, the spiders may use light as a way to orient themselves.

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“That spiders have a back-up system for orientation like this seems surprising, since they have never been exposed to an environment without gravity in the course of their evolution,” lead author Samuel Zschokke said in a statement.

Without gravity, the spider may be confused about which way it is facing, Zschokke said. The light from above could serve as a clue for the confused spiders.

Read more science and nature stories here.

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