Drugs are whack: The intricate patternings of spider webs are completely morphed when they’re high, or so say two studies – one in 1948 and the other in 1995 – that show the stunning differences you’ll find in a spider’s webs when they’ve had caffeine, LSD, speed and a number of other drugs.
The spiders didn’t naturally come across the mind-altering substances, of course. German zoologist H.M. Peters first tested the effect of drugs on spiders in 1948. He was studying spider weaving patterns at the University of Tubingen, but found the pesky little beasties didn’t oblige his sleep schedule – they wove between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Peters teamed up with Peter N. Witt, a pharmocologist, to help alter the spiders’ work schedule – with drugs. The two proceeded to feed spiders sugar water spiked with caffeine, mescaline, amphetamine, LSD and strychnine to change things up for the spiders. Needless to say, it did.
The drugs impacted the spiders’ web size and pattern, largely because their motor skills and behavior were extremely altered after imbibing. While those with caffeine showed extremely erratic weaving patterns, the low-dosed LSD and mescaline spiders seemed to have their doors of perception widened. Well, gaps between the silk were widened, anyway, and seemed more deliberate and ordered.
Witt quickly recognized the potential of using spiders to test drug strength and effect on physiology. He wrote a book about the spiders in 1982, and spoke with the New York Times in 1985 about spider web stylin’. It’s worth a read.
The topic was briefly revisited by NASA in 1995; the 1995 NASA brief can be found on the science blog, Science Blogs:
It can also be found here. Oh, and for a touch of levity, this is pretty great: