Leading Article: ... or, eight legs and a funeral

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Before squashing the next spider you find in the bath, remember they're just like us. They get a buzz from the same drugs as we do, which suggests that there may be similarities between our nervous systems even though our common ancestors lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

As revealed in yesterday's paper, you need only look at the webs that spiders spin when drugged to realise that they get stoned on marijuana, dozy on sleeping pills and wired on speed. Nothing very surprising in this.

But the results for caffeine will be enough to put many people off their cappuccino. Far from stimulating great effort and keen concentration, a dose sends spiders all over the place, spinning eccentric webs with no apparent purpose or achievement. We all know the type: frenetic workers, scurrying around, producing work that is full of holes. And thanks to spiders we can finally identify the culprit: the coffee machine.

Clearly, we could stand to learn a great deal from spiders. If they could be persuaded to nibble a McDonald's hamburger, their strange webs might serve as a culinary warning. Imagine what they might spin after exposure to muzak, a morning on the M25 or an evening with Bernard Manning.

However, the most immediate insight that spiders may offer need not involve putting them through any such torturous experiences. Their normal ways might inform Lord Mackay as he struggles to help the public when troubled with wayward marriages.

Spiders, notably the Black Widow, have a novel, clean and only briefly painful solution. The female consumes the male, who manfully offers himself up as a meal once he has contributed his sperm. There are, it seems, no repercussions for the kids because daddy long-legs is not around. Perhaps that is because the offspring are spared the acrimony of a messy divorce.

Whatever the reason, the female, having feasted on her partner, seems unperturbed by his absence and well able to fend for her brood. Her daughters duly go about their work in similar fashion when their time comes. And her spinning? It shows no signs of trauma caused by the sudden ending of a beautiful relationship.

No place for mediation here.