Drugs Given To Spiders Change How They Weave Their Webs

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One zoologist’s quest to document the spider’s web-crafting process led to studies showing the effects of various drugs on spiders, and possibly humans.


While spiders may not give people the warm fuzzies, many admire their intricately-spun webs. One zoologist’s quest to document the spider’s web-crafting process led to studies showing the effects of various drugs on spiders, and possibly humans.

In 1948, H.M Peters kept falling asleep while trying to capture footage of spiders building webs around 2 to 5 am. He asked his workspace roommate – pharmacologist Peter Witt who was studying drug effects on humans – to figure out how to get the spiders working at different times.

Witt went about this by feeding the spiders drops of sugar water mixed with drugs like marijuana, peyote, and morphine. Webs still were spun at the same time of night so Peters ended his quest. But the resulting web abnormalities mesmerized Witt as he tested additional drugs like caffeine and LSD. He continued to study spiders, which didn’t require as much time or money and weren’t subject to legal regulations or animal rights advocates - until he ended his experiments in the 1970s.

Then in 1995, NASA replicated Witt’s studies to measure the toxicity of different drugs. Similar to Witt’s, NASA’s results showed how each drug creates a unique pattern of non-functional behavior and web deformities based on the drug’s toxicity. Surprisingly, the ever-popular caffeine seemed to produce one of the most deformed webs.

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