the pages of 'The British Tarantula Society Journal'
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
© Copyright 'The British Tarantula
Last Updated: February 12, 2007