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Spiders sniff out humans

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A jumping spider, Evarcha arcuata. Thanks to Peter Petac for the photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/phylumarthropoda/

This is a jumping spider, and it is unusual in more ways than just its looks.

The jumping spider, Evarcha culicivora, or the ‘vampire spider’ is the only animal which chooses its prey based on what the latter has just eaten: it attacks mosquitoes that have recently sucked blood, rather than other types of food.1

New findings have made this awesome creature that little bit more exciting. Scientists have known for a while that this spider has excellent eyesight. Now they have discovered that this spider can smell the odour of humans inside the mosquitoes, just as mosquitoes can smell us.2

The scientists took some dirty socks (I kid you not) and blew the smell of them towards a spider held in a chamber. They also did the same thing but using clean socks. Spiders which had the dirty-sock smell wafted towards them stayed in the chamber longer than the ones that had the clean-sock smell.

This is the first spider found to be able to smell out humans. What’s more, the favourite mosquito snack of this spider is Anopheles, the mosquito which is a vector for malaria. Just as Anopheles mosquitoes use human smell to sniff out their blood meal, so this spider is using the smell to sniff out the mosquitoes.

This is probably a little bit out there, but I’m envisioning a scene where we release a whole load of these mosquito-sniffing machines out into the worst Malaria-inflicted areas of Africa…?

 

 

1Jackson, R.R., Nelson, X.J., and Sune, G.O. (2005). A spider that feeds indirectly on vertebrate blood by choosing female mosquitoes as prey. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 102, 15155.

2 Cross, F.R., and Jackson, R.R. (2011). Olfaction-based anthropophily in a mosquito-specialist predator. Biol. Lett. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1233

 

Not quite a David Attenborough commentary, but a fun video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxbuysNGLOM]

Felicity Muth About the Author: Felicity Muth is an early-career researcher with a PhD in animal cognition. Follow on Twitter @notbadscience.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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