Plucky space spider Nefertiti, nicknamed “Spidernaut” after accompanying astronauts on a 100-day trip to the International Space Station, has died shortly after her return to Earth. On show at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History since Thursday last week, the museum confirmed the intrepid explorer had been found dead earlier this week, as Insect Zoo staff completed a pre-opening check of the department.
Thankfully, the museum says that Nefertiti’s death wasn’t spider suicide triggered by post-return depression, but instead from natural causes. The phidippus johnsoni species – known as the redback jumping spider - can life for up to a year, in general, though the spidernaut was a spritely 10 months old.
“Jumping spiders have very good vision that they use to track and stalk prey. Unlike orb weavers, the jumping spider does not spin a web to capture food. Jumping spiders are hunters. They move around during the day seeking prey. Once it visually identifies prey, it may stalk it for some distance prior to catching it. Once the jumping spider is within close proximity of its prey, it will secure a drag line using its silk and then jump with great speed onto the prey securing it with a lethal bite. The drag line acts as a safety harness in case the spider should miss its target and fall. This experiment seeks to determine if the jumping spider alters its predation technique in a microgravity environment” SpaceLab experiment overview
“The loss of this special animal that inspired so many imaginations will be felt throughout the museum community” the museum wrote. “The body of Neffi will be added to the museum’s collection of specimens where she will continue to contribute to the understanding of spiders.”
Putting the spider into orbit had been the suggestion of a team of students, investigating the effects of microgravity on arachnids. A report from space by Suni Williams earlier this year described how Nefertiti – along with fellow spidernaut Cleopatra – was acclimatizing to life in space, with no apparent issues capturing prey.