Location: Birmingham, England
October 23, 2010 7:06 am
I like in Birmingham, UK, and spotted a strange spider today – it was about 3cm across, hairy and the markings on its back were a very bright gold. I took a picture as I’ve never seen a spider like it before, and was wondering what it is and if it’s actually native to Britain.
Signature: Sarah Clark
The Cross Spider or Garden Spider, Araneus diadematus, is a European species that is common in the UK and information regarding it may be found on the UK Safari website. The species has the distinction of providing the first spiders, Anita and Arabella, to be shot into space aboard Skylab II. Here is some information from the Aerospace Guide website:
“Although the STS-107 spiders were the first Australian animals in space, they weren’t the first spiders in space. Anita and Arabella, two female cross spiders (Araneus diadematus) went into orbit in 1973 for Skylab 3 space station. Like the STS-107 experiment, the Skylab experiment was a student project. Judy Miles, from Lexington, Massachusetts, wanted to know if spiders could spin webs in near-weightlessness. Here is Judith Miles:
In zero gravity, a lot of things tumble, roll, flip and tip. Can you name something that spins in zero-gravity? Hint: it has eight legs and would scare Miss Muffet.
That’s right: a spider. In this case, two of them. Anita and Arabella took off into space way back in 1973. They were on board Skylab, an early, experimental orbiting space station. Also on board were 720 fruit flies, six mice, two minnows and 50 minnow eggs! Busy place.
What was this creature-zoo up to? They were all part of student experiments. Anita and Arabella were onboard for high school student Judy Miles from Lexington, Massachusetts. Judy wondered if spiders could spin webs in weightlessness. Good question.
So, the lucky student got to team up with NASA space scientists to design an experiment that would measure how well spiders weave their webs in space.
So what did Judy and NASA learn? Zero gravity didn’t stop Anita and Arabella from doing what spiders do — spin webs.
This little bit of first spider in space
Spiders have been astronauts in space missions. In 1973, the two common cross spiders “aranous diadematus” Arabella and Anita became famous for their stay in the Skylab space station.
Both spiders were successful in spinning webs in weightlessness; examples can be seen in above images.
Unfortunately, these two spiders did not return safely: Anita died in-flight before returning, and Arabella was found dead after splash-down of the Skylab-3 (2nd manned mission) Apollo CM.
Arabella and Anita have the right stuff. These two common spiders were NASA’s first eight-legged astronauts! Anita and Arabella got their mission because a high-school student named Judy Miles wondered if spiders could spin webs in a weightless environment. She suggested sending spiders into space to find out. NASA space scientists liked her proposal and went to work designing special cages, lights, and cameras.
On August 5, 1973, Arabella and Anita blasted off into space on Skylab II. On her first day in orbit, Arabella didn’t do well. She spun sloppy webs and obviously felt the effects of weightlessness. However, by her third day in space, she was spinning just as though she were back at home. Her webs were finer in space, which was expected. But the pattern remained the same. She proved that spiders can spin nearly Earth-like webs in space.
Though Arabella and Anita have both died, their bodies remain at the Smithsonian, memorialized for their small, vital part in increasing our knowledge of space.“