Have you ever wondered if bugs can get high like humans can? It’s an interesting question! As you probably know, humans ingest certain substances like marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs that affect our nervous system and alter our state of consciousness.
But do bugs have similar experiences when exposed to substances that affect their tiny bug’s brains and bodies? Keep reading to learn all about insect nervous systems, how drugs impact bugs, if they can get addicted, experiments that have gotten insects high, and more!
Can Bugs Get High?
Yes, it turns out that bugs absolutely can get intoxicated and “high” when exposed to certain chemicals! Just like substances that alter human consciousness, bugs can be affected by drugs, toxins, and chemicals that impact their nervous systems.
Insects have neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and octopamine that regulate things like mood, aggression, movement, and sleep. When drugs or toxins interact with these chemical messengers in their nervous system, it changes how bugs think and behave.
For example, spiders exposed to caffeine make disorganized, “drugged” webs. Cockroaches on alcohol act sluggishly and are less responsive. Bees given cocaine-laced nectar become hyperactive and dance more to communicate with hive-mates.
So even though their brains and bodies are much simpler than humans, insects still have nervous systems that can be altered by foreign chemicals that get them “high” in their own buggy way!
Insect Nervous System
To understand how drugs and toxins impact bug behaviour, you first need to know a little bit about their nervous system structure.
Insect nervous systems are relatively simple compared to humans but still complex enough to control their behaviours, actions, and responses to stimuli. Like us, insects have a brain that processes sensory information and directs the body. But an insect brain has far fewer neurons – grasshopper brains have about 200,000 neurons compared to humans’ 86 billion!
Beyond the brain, insects have a main nerve cord running the length of their body, with nerve branches extending into each body segment. Instead of one centralized nervous system like humans have, bugs have more of a decentralized network of smaller nerve clusters and ganglia (nerve centres).
This nerve cord and series of nerve bundles allow for messaging between the brain and the rest of the body – like telling a leg to move or an antenna to swivel. The insect nervous system might be basic, but it’s still sophisticated enough to control its complex behaviours!
How Do Drugs Affect an Insect’s Nervous System?
When an outside chemical substance enters their body, it can mess with the normal functioning of an insect’s nervous system.
Just like drugs or alcohol change the amounts of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine in human brains, toxins and chemicals alter insect neurotransmitter levels, too.
For example, caffeine given to a spider increases octopamine and decreases serotonin in the nervous system. With this chemically altered neurotransmitter balance, their web-spinning behaviour changes.
Substances that are toxic to insect nervous systems can overstimulate and damage neurons, causing paralysis or death. The insecticide DDT targets sodium channels in insect nerve fibres, causing them to spasm and eventually die off.
So, even with simpler nervous systems compared to humans, introducing foreign chemicals still disrupts the normal signalling in insect brains and bodies. Like humans, a “high” bug has an intoxicated nervous system!
Can Insects Get Addicted?
In studies examining how drugs affect insects, researchers surprisingly found that bugs may experience drug cravings and addiction-like behaviours!
In one study, fruit flies were trained to associate methamphetamine exposure with certain smells. When later exposed to those odours, the flies sought meth if it was available, suggesting cravings.
Another study showed locusts preferred foods laced with nicotine and went through a withdrawal phase when nicotine was removed. Grasshoppers given cocaine retreated to areas associated with prior cocaine exposure.
These preference behaviours suggest insects can get hooked on addictive substances like humans, though more research is needed. Their brains have reward pathways just like ours, so it makes sense bugs would “want” more of something that made them feel good!
Experiments Using Drugs on Bugs
Scientists have tested all kinds of drugs and toxins on bugs like spiders, beetles, bees, and flies to study their effects. Here are some wild experiments that got insects intoxicated:
- NASA gave spiders cocaine, marijuana, caffeine or chloral hydrate to observe changes in web construction. Drugged spiders made disorganized webs full of holes compared to normal web patterns.
- A study exposed fruit fly larvae to vapour from alcoholic drinks. Intoxicated flies became hyperactive and crawled in looping patterns compared to control flies.
- Bees were trained to identify nectar scents laced with cocaine versus regular nectar. Coked-up bees danced more to direct hive-mates to the cocaine source!
- Ladybugs sprayed with caffeine moved faster and became restless and jittery compared to relaxed untreated bugs.
- Ants given LSD by scientists became hyperactive and erratic. Some army ants separated from the colony and wandered aimlessly after ingesting the psychedelic.
Though strange, these experiments provide clues into how insect nervous systems work and are affected by environmental contaminants. Who knew bugs could act like partiers at times?!