Melting spiders’ minds

Ever wonder how a spider web works? A spider’s web is remarkable. It serves as the primary way in which the spider survives. Without the web, the spider would have no tool to lure, catch and devour its prey.What’s more, the process of building a web takes little time at all.

It only takes between 20 and 30 minutes for the arachnid to build its web. First, the radii must be placed at set intervals. The spider, then, crosses the radii in pendulums and round turns to set the insect-catching zones. After the work is completed, the spider settles at the hub of the web and stretches out its legs. It can now feel each vibration that occurs on the web, thus catching  prey trapped its natural structure.

But what happens when, like us human creatures, spiders become subject to hallucinogenics or other mind-altering substances?

H.M. Peters, zoologist, began filming the web-building techniques of the Orb spider in 1948. This project was part of his research conducted at the University of Tubingen in Germany. The original plan was to simply film the ritual of the Orb spider, which occurred predominantly between 2 and 5 in the morning. The work soon became dreadfully boring, and so Peters got creative. His intention was to alter the internal clock of the spider in order to work during the hours of the day of his choice. Peters enlisted the help of pharmacologist Peter Witt.

Peters and Witt, together, formed a plan. In order to change the spider’s time of web-building, they would need to change the functioning of the spider. The duo decided to lace water with a variety of mind-altering drugs such as LSD, amphetamines and marijuana, along with many other substances. The lighting and temperature of the laboratory were regulated for controlled results.

The results were interesting, to say the least. While the spider’s web is usually intricate and effective, most results proved to be inconclusive and horrifying

Notes from the English publication, “Drugs and Society,” state,

“Their daily spinning is usually a remarkably precise and complex process whose mechanisms we do not fully understand.”

The webs could not serve what the spiders had intended them to. The creations were ugly and proved to be useless for catching the spider’s prey.

Amphetamines: The webs included irregularly spaced radii but with the same basic geometry.

LSD: With high dosages of LSD, web-building was completely altered. Dosages that were just a bit lighter made the webs appear psychedelic. Sometimes the spiders couldn’t do anything under the LSD influence. Low dosages of LSD almost created a normal web, but still with compulsive lines and sections.

Soon, after observing the results of drug-induced web-building, Peters abandoned the research.  Witt continued in his tests, experimenting with other substances and combinations. He also questioned the comparison between the spider’s mind and our own while using these substances. Results are unclear as to whether the tests proved useful in any way. Although scientific interest with spider experimentation decreased, Witt continued testing mind-altering effects on the orb spider until his death in 1998.

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