Spiders In Space Station Can Weave Webs Without Gravity
Spider webs can sometimes feel like a nuisance rather than one of natures marvels. However, spiders have now shown just how impressive their web making abilities are by creating them in space aboard the International Space Station.
In 2008 the first space spider experiments began. While the spiders did manage to create webs, disaster struck when they escaped and became co-inhabitants. This lead to webs becoming intertwined, and the study ultimately not shining a light on how spiders adapt to zero gravity.
Fortunately, the tests have been conducted again and have interesting results. To create a web, spiders seemingly don’t need gravity, they just need a source of light.
Golden silk orb-weaver spiders, or Trichonephila clavipes, are known for creating asymmetrical webs. They were sent into space for a second study and, during their visit to the International Space Station, the spiders did not cross paths; by remaining isolated, they were allowed them to create spectacular webs.
The authors of the study explained how they monitored the webs of the spiders:
We assessed the spider orientation in 100 webs based on 14,528 pictures, of which 14,021 showed the spider in its resting position and could therefore be used for the analysis.
In space, some webs were more symmetrical than on Earth, but things changed when the lights were on. The study noted that the webs returned to a more familiar asymmetrical pattern when the lights were switched on. With this in mind, the study has concluded that light acted as an ‘orientation guide during building’ in the absence of gravity.
This seems to have shocked researchers and Samuel Zschokke, from the University of Basel, detailed the initial surprise:
We wouldn’t have guessed that light would play a role in orienting the spiders in space.
We were very fortunate that the lamps were attached at the top of the chamber and not on various sides. Otherwise, we would not have been able to discover the effect of light on the symmetry of webs in zero gravity.
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.
There were more surprises for the researchers during this study. The team had intended to send up four female spiders, but instead sent up some males. Fortunately, this mishap didn’t impact the study too much and the important discovery of spiders using light for orientation came about.
It seems that spiders can adapt quickly to new situations, even the removal of gravity.
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