Jumping spiders that love smelly socks could help fight malaria

Feb 17, 2011 by Lin Edwards report
Evarcha culicivora. Credit: Robert Jackson/ University of Canterbury.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers in New Zealand have found that a type of jumping spider prefers the odor of smelly socks to clean ones. The spider is the only predator known to feed indirectly on vertebrate blood by eating the mosquitoes that have fed on the vertebrates, including humans.

The spider (Evarcha culicivora), which is also known as the vampire spider, is a native of East Africa and is known to go into a kind of feeding frenzy when it smells blood, killing up to 20 female blood-filled Anopheles mosquitoes (the type that carry ) in a single session, but not necessarily eating them all immediately.

Dr Fiona Cross and Professor Robert Jackson of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand thought the could be a useful tool in the fight against malaria if people were encouraged to have them living in their homes, and even before carrying out their research suspected the spiders might be attracted to human odors because they are commonly found in tall grass next to human dwellings.

Cross and Jackon devised an "" to test their suspicions. They placed each spider into a small holding chamber connected to an exit chamber and pumped air into the holding chamber from one of two boxes. One of the boxes contained a clean sock, and the other contained a smelly sock that had been worn for 12 hours. The spider was free to move into the exit chamber at any time, and this chamber had normal, unscented air.

The results of the experiment were that the spiders stayed in the holding chamber 15 to 30 minutes longer if their air was laden with the scent of smelly socks than if the air carried the clean sock smell. The behavior was seen in all 109 spiders tested, regardless of their age or gender.

Dr Cross said the discovery ties in with some of the spider’s behavior patterns, and it is the first time a spider’s attraction to human odors has been demonstrated. She said since the spider lives in areas where malaria is rife it makes sense to learn as much as possible about it, especially ways in which people can lure the spiders into living in their houses without attracting more mosquitoes at the same time. She said the spider will never be “the magic bullet” that wipes out malaria, but it could be helpful and it is freely available in the environment.

In 2003 Professor Jackson discovered the spider and showed that it preys on mosquitoes responsible for malaria, especially females engorged after a blood meal. He also showed the spiders can recognize the mosquitoes both from their appearance and their smell, which was unexpected in a jumping spider known more for its excellent eyesight. Jackson then teamed with Cross and in 2009 they showed the spider becomes irresistible to the opposite sex when they have eaten a meal of blood-filled spiders.

The paper is published in the journal Biology Letters.

Explore further: Rising temperatures can be hard on dogs

More information: Olfaction-based anthropophily in a mosquito-specialist predator, by Fiona R. Cross, Biology Letters, Published online before print February 16, 2011, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1233

Related Stories

Mosquitoes supply spider with blood

Oct 11, 2005

Scientists in Sydney, Australia, say they've determined an East African species of jumping spider prefers to prey on blood-engorged female mosquitoes. And that, the Macquarie University researchers said, demonstrates a rare ...

Study: Crickets 'forewarn' unborn babies about spiders

Feb 17, 2010

Just because cricket moms abandon their eggs before they hatch doesn't mean they don't pass wisdom along to their babies. New research in the American Naturalist shows that crickets can warn their unborn babies about potent ...

Scientists breed goats that produce spider silk

May 31, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers from the University of Wyoming have developed a way to incorporate spiders' silk-spinning genes into goats, allowing the researchers to harvest the silk protein from the goats’ ...

Recommended for you

New species of mayfly discovered in India

1 hour ago

Scientists have discovered a new species of mayfly in the southern Western Ghats, a mountain range along the west coast of India. In fact, this is the first time that any mayfly belonging to the genus Labiobaetis has be ...

Rising temperatures can be hard on dogs

Jul 25, 2014

The "dog days of summer" are here, but don't let the phrase fool you. This hot time of year can be dangerous for your pup, says a Kansas State University veterinarian.

Monkeys fear big cats less, eat more, with humans around

Jul 25, 2014

Some Monkeys in South Africa have been found to regard field scientists as human shields against predators and why not if the alternative is death by leopard? The researchers found the monkeys felt far safer ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

mysticfree
5 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2011
"Jackson then teamed with Cross and in 2009 they showed the spider becomes irresistible to the opposite sex when they have eaten a meal of blood-filled spiders."

Shouldn't that be "blood-filled mosquitoes"?
orsr
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2011
The socks act like some kind of "reservoir" for human odor, which the spider seeks because the smell indicates that there is probably some food for the spider there, because the mosquitos seek the same human odor for food. Right?
Moebius
not rated yet Feb 17, 2011
Mosquito's are attracted to smelly feet. Socks smell like the feet that are in them. The spiders are attracted to the smell because they know their prey is attracted to it. It really has nothing to do with socks.
neiorah
not rated yet Feb 17, 2011
What a little cutie. I keep a few jumping spiders in my house on purpose too.
frajo
not rated yet Feb 18, 2011
Spiders are man's best friends when it comes to insects.