Fact Check: Did NASA Test the Impact of Drugs on Spiders Making Webs?

Images of unusual spider webs said to be from a NASA experiment have sparked interest on social media.

The Claim

On August 24, Twitter user @24hrknowledge posted a photo of a number of oddly shaped spider webs alongside captions referencing the drug each spider had apparently taken.

In 1995 a group of NASA scientists studied the effects of various drugs on spiders, specifically on the way they weave their webs pic.twitter.com/Z0WiLhGwc8

— Time For Knowledge (24×7) (@24hrknowledge) August 25, 2021

The user wrote: "In 1995 a group of NASA scientists studied the effects of various drugs on spiders, specifically on the way they weave their webs."

As of Thursday morning EDT the tweet had gained nearly 6,500 likes and over 1,200 retweets.

But the account is not the first to make the claim. For instance, the same picture and the exact same wording was also used by the Twitter user @learnhistory in a tweet on July 18, which also proved popular, garnering over 10,000 likes.

In 1995 a group of NASA scientists studied the effects of various drugs on spiders, specifically on the way they weave their webs pic.twitter.com/tCFly6xglS

— Historical Photos (@Iearnhistory) July 18, 2021

Variations have been posted much further back than that, and Newsweek found examples from several years ago on Twitter.

Drugs tested on spiders #NASA pic.twitter.com/gnXbgEyn5V

— SΛJ 𓅓 (@SajTheOne) April 26, 2015

The Facts

A NASA tech briefing "Using Spider-Web Patterns To Determine Toxicity" was published in April 1995.

In this, researchers David A. Noever, Raymond J. Cronise, and Rachna A. Relwani of the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center outlined an experiment in which they exposed spiders to various chemicals.

According to the briefing, the purpose of the study was to examine how toxic a chemical is by exposing spiders to it and comparing how their webs differed to that of a normal spider web.

The researchers said this approach to toxicity testing could serve as an alternative to testing harmful chemicals on what they referred to as "higher animals," which they said was "becoming increasingly restricted by law."

The briefing includes an illustration of a spider web made by a spider that had not been exposed to chemicals. It also includes four illustrations of spider webs spun by spiders that had been exposed to marijuana, benzedrine, caffeine, and chloral hydrate.

In that order, from marijuana to chloral hydrate, the webs look increasingly erratic and deformed.

The briefing states: "The changes in webs reflect the degree of toxicity of a substance. The more toxic the chemical, the more deformed a web looks in comparison with a normal web."

The study was also reported on by New Scientist magazine in April 1995.

Newsweek was unable to access the full study on NASA's Technical Reports Server (NTRS) because the server was down for maintenance.

The Ruling

Fact Check - True

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

True.

NASA scientists did expose spiders to different chemicals, including some used as recreational drugs, in order to see the effect this would have on their webs.

This research was conducted in a bid to examine the toxicity of the different chemicals and was released in 1995.

Spider web
A spider web pictured in Godewaersvelde, Northern France, in October 2015. In the 90s, NASA researchers put spiders through chemical toxicity tests to see how their web-making capabilities changed. AFP / Getty