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Do Webs Need Drugs

January 17, 2013

Eva Gusnowski

A spider’s web can be a beautiful thing, despite the evil that lurks inside of it.  Its pretty amazing how they manage to build something that is so symmetric and full of forethought.  But then along came science…

If you ever wondered what mind-altering substances would do to a spider, then look no further.  A group of scientists at NASA (waaaaay back in 1995) decided to give the house spider (Araneus diadematus) a variety of chemicals, and then observed the web patterns that were spun after the drug was given.  This isn’t the first time this has been done, however; P. N. Witt was giving psychotropic drugs to spiders starting back in the 1940s.  He apparently gave a colleague amphetamine to give to the spiders in his yard so that they would stop spinning webs during the night.  A likely story, am I right?  Regardless, they found that the spiders still continued on with their spinning at the usual time, but this time they began spinning webs with different patterns than usual.  After running more experiments with a smorgasbord of chemical concoctions, he found that various chemicals reflected their nature on the spider’s biology in the same way that they seem to affect humans.

 

                                                          Noever et al., 1995

The NASA authors propose that the spiders webs can be used as an indicator of drug toxicity, negating the necessity to use higher order mammals in drug testing in the future (which would, in fact, be the present).  But who could ever have predicted that the spiders would start drug wars and begin to behave just like humans.  Tragedy.

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