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Spidernaut finds home at the National Museum of Natural History’s Insect Zoo

Submitted by on November 29, 2012 – 4:02 pm

A jumping spider of the species Phidippus johnsoni recently returned from a 100-day stay in space, en route to and as a resident aboard the International Space Station. She is the first jumping spider to return from space and successfully readjust to life on Earth. The Museum of Natural History’s director and associate director will welcome the Insect Zoo’s first “Spidernaut” to her new home.

The Spidernaut’s historic flight was the product of a worldwide science project and contest called YouTube Space Lab. The contest invited students ages 14-18 from around the world to submit two-minute YouTube videos suggesting science experiments that could be conducted aboard the space station. One of two experiments selected was proposed by 18-year-old Amr Mohamed from Alexandria, Egypt. His question was whether a jumping spider could adjust its natural hunting technique to still catch its prey in a microgravity environment. The spider, named “Nefertiti” in honor of Egypt’s ancient history, was observed by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams in orbit and by researchers on the ground. The observations also were streamed online. Despite the changes in Nefertiti’s environment, the result of the experiment was that she was indeed able to adjust her feeding behavior to account for the effects of microgravity and still catch her prey.

After circling the Earth approximately 1,584 times and traveling approximately 41,580,000 miles, Nefertiti’s mission was complete. She will spend the remainder of her life span, estimated to be about six months, at the museum’s O. Orkin Insect Zoo. The Insect Zoo is a special exhibition hall on the second floor of the museum, directly adjacent to the Live Butterfly Pavilion, where visitors can regularly observe live insects. “Neffi” will be on display with the actual habitat from the research mission, and Insect Zoo volunteers will receive special training so they can answer visitor’s questions about her unique experience.

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