Web of a Spider on LSD
Web of a Spider on Hashish
Web of a Spider on Mescaline
Web of a Spider on Caffeine
The photos above show you real nets of spiders that were fed drug-dosed flies!
Despite my own arachnophobia, I’m a lover of all animals and most insects (just not spiders). Although I have a mild obsession with the natural world and I love all things that have to do with it. Even the entertaining aspects of nature.
Like spiders….. On drugs.
Give me spiders on drugs any day over the current popular sitcom. Unfortunately, someone beat me to it.
In 1948, a German zoologist by the name of Hans Peters was studying spider webs. In particular, he was interested in making a documentary about them building their webs, which most of them do during the small hours of the morning. Peters couldn’t stay awake during the wee hours for his experiment since he also had to wake up early for his studies, so he asked the help of his colleague, Peter N Witt.
Witt, a pharmacologist, was tasked to help Peters and he came up with the idea of using psychoactive drugs in order to change the time that the spiders weave their webs. So Peters fed the spiders doses of sugar water that was mixed with several different kinds of drugs: marijuana, LSD, morphine, peyote, Benzedrine, and scopolomine. Each spider was treated to one kind of drug, which Peters tested at different levels of concentration. But the next morning, Peters and his team found out that despite their efforts, it failed to change the spiders’ pattern of spinning their webs in the wee hours of the morning.
However, this sparked a newfound curiosity in Witt because they found that each spider wove a different web pattern. Each web differed according to the drug the spider had been given. Ever since then, Witt devoted himself to getting spiders high and seeing what that would do.
In his 1954 publication, Spider Webs and Drugs, Witt wrote: “Human subjects are moody, complicated and variable.” According to him, “Spiders proved to be much simpler subjects.” He also saw a practical value in drugging spiders: the difference in pattern could be used to determine cases of unidentified drug poisonings in humans.
Over the years, Witt fine-tuned his study on the spiders. He chose to only use the zilla x-notata spider, a garden species that weaves orb webs. He chose to use female spiders since they were twice the size of males, eat less, and build webs less often. Witt kept the female spiders on a natural diet that gave them just enough energy so that they would be forced to spin a web at night. In his future experiments, he administered other drugs into the mix, primarily caffeine and LSD. He continued to observe the deviations of web depending on the drug the spider had been exposed to. A 10 microgram dose of caffeine would cause a spider to build a smaller web, and its circular threads were extremely messy and uneven. But at a 100 microgram dose, a spider would be completely useless in building a web.
Witt noticed that each spider on drugs was unable to function properly, although in different degrees. Marijuana caused the spiders to completely omit building the inner circles of the web. Scopolamine’s notorious hallucinogenic effects completely disrupted their sense of direction. Sleepy drugs made the spiders act drowsy and avoided spinning the longest threads found on the outer corners. Benzedrine resulted in zig-zagged webs. The only exception to the pattern was when the spiders were given small doses of LSD which caused them to actually create orderly webs.
In his publication, Witt wrote that the spider’s nervous central system is as affected by drugs “as a man intoxicated by alcohol weaves an erratic course down the street.”
Fast forward to 1984, when Witt’s got another buzz as a molecular pharmacologist named J.A. Nathanson published a study entitled “Caffeine and related methylxanthines: possible naturally occurring pesticides”. In the publication, Nathanson analyzed Witt’s findings but limited it to the effects of caffeine. However come 1995, the NASA completely recreated Witt’s research with most of the same drugs but on a species of European garden spiders. Naturally, NASA’s findings were similar to Witt’s but they took the experiments a step further by using computers to quantify the differences based on toxicity levels.
To put it short, the scientists found that the more toxic or chemical the drug was, the more messed up the webs were.
I completely agree with NASA and Witt when they said that spiders are chosen because they can produce quick findings, are cheap, and provide an actual visualization on the effect of various drugs. Other kinds of animal testing takes up alot of time, is expensive, and is also prohibited by law. (But that’s ok too because spiders don’t get no sympathy from me.)
What we can learn from these experiments is that humans and spiders act pretty similar when it comes to drug use. Also, I guess we need to stay away from coffee?