From the pages of 'The British Tarantula Society Journal'


Michael Summerfield

I was reading my local newspaper when I noticed the headline "A CrackNophobia". It stated that NASA's dope tests leave spiders in a spin and that spiders are being drugged in a bizarre experiment to test how substances like marijuana and caffeine affect their ability to spin webs. Wanting to find out more

information, I wrote to NASA's Flight Center and received the following information:-

A method of determining the toxicities of chemicals involves recording and analysis of spider web patterns. The method is based on the observation that spiders exposed to various chemicals spin webs that differ, in various ways, from their normal web. The changes in the web reflect the degree of toxicity of a substance. The more toxic the chemical the more deformed a web looks in comparison to a normal web. In as much as the shape of a spider web resembles that of a crystal lattice in some respects, techniques of crystallography are applied to obtain several quantitative measures of toxicity as manifested in the differences between photographs of webs spun under toxic and normal conditions.

The images of the cells are digitised and processed by an image-data-analysis program that computes various measurements of the cellular structures of the webs, including numbers of cells and average areas, perimeters and radii of cells.

It appears, that one of the most telling measures of toxicity is a decrease, in comparison with a normal web, of the numbers of completed sides in the cells; the

greater the toxicity, the more sides the spider fails to complete (see illustration below).

NASA also stated that they have never conducted any research using drugs or

spiders as part of this project, and the program was carried out using existing data from an independent research program.

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Last Updated: February 12, 2007