March 17, 2004
Tobacco Smoke and Spiders
The Impact of Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke on Orb Weaving Spiders
Sarah Gerin, 14, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Finalist, Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge, 2003
Project background: Both of Sarah's parents have smoked since she and her sister were born, causing her to wonder how second-hand smoke impacts the brain and behavior. It's believed that spiders called orb weavers have constructed their webs in the same fashion for 125 million years. Sarah wanted to determine whether exposure to environmental tobacco smoke would affect the orb weaver's nervous system and web construction behavior.
Tactics and results: Sarah captured two specimens and allowed them to build webs in two transparent 8-gallon containers. Then she began to expose the spiders to tobacco smoke twice daily for 30 days. The spiders' webs were examined, then torn down every 4 days. Gradual changes in web construction eventually escalated to "gross web distortion" by the end of the 30-day period.
Sarah concluded that tobacco smoke did have a negative effect on the spiders, providing graphic evidence of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.
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