Cat Scan

News… and then some.

Spiders will make me do laundry

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"Did somebody say 'socks'?" O.o

By Cat Viglienzoni — February 18, 2011

I admit that as college students go, I’m definitely not the worst when it comes to doing laundry in a timely fashion. I could be better, but I could be worse.

After reading this article on the  BBC News website about a particular arachnid with a penchant for smelly socks, I’m considering bagging the footwear… at least if I ever go to Lake Victoria in Africa (where the spiders are found).

But some scientists are encouraging people to take these spiders into their homes because they have an important dietary preference: mosquitoes. Specifically, Anopheles gambiae, the ones that carry blood.

And in countries where malaria is a serious concern, a spider like this one may not seem like such a bad idea. Recruiting one of nature’s weapons against a disease mankind has yet to defeat may be a logical move.

But here are a few reasons why, logical or not, I will NOT be hosting these spiders as roommates.

1. They jump.

Yes, not only do they crawl, like every other creepy spider, but they’ll jump too. (Their scientific name is Evarcha culicivora, but they are more commonly known as East African jumping spiders.) It’s like combining the annoyance of a flea with the horror of a spider.

2. They are attracted to human scents…

Here’s where the socks come in. Researchers had a suspicion the spiders liked something about humans because they would more commonly find the arachnids in grasses near houses or other buildings with people. They tested this theory by putting the spiders in an olfactometer (that’s a device that tests using smells) and pumping the chamber full of either air from a clean sock or  pungent sock-scented air. (Mmmmm, right?) Well, the spiders were free to leave at any time, but those in the sock-scented atmosphere consistently hung around longer than their counterparts in less aromatic quarters.

3. … and blood.

The lead researcher tells the BBC: “When they smell blood, they can launch into feeding frenzies where they kill up to 20 mosquitoes in rapid succession, and not necessarily to eat all of them” and “they really do go quite crazy when they are in the vicinity of blood.”

Let’s pause for a moment and consider that behavior. Now let’s consider that behavior combined with their love for the scent of humans.

A 2005 article on the jumping spider in National Geographic says: “The finding raises the possibility that other spiders also have a taste for human and mammal blood.” Oh, and: “Lab experiments conducted near Lake Victoria showed the spider preferred female mosquitoes fed with human blood over all other prey, including male mosquitoes, which don’t feed on animal blood.” And this wasn’t a slight preference – it was the case 83 percent of the time.

I refuse to go to bed feeling like Frodo in Shelob’s lair. Not happening.

So, to any East African spider spying from the sock drawers of another continent… keep your mandibles on the mosquitoes. And stay out of my laundry.

###

What do you think? Would you rather risk malaria or live with spiders?

For further reading:

Here’s the link to the full article published in the journal Biology Letters.

The National Geographic article from 2005 about the spiders’ love for blood.

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Written by Cat Viglienzoni

February 18, 2011 at 4:39 AM

Posted in Science & Environment

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. […] Anyway, that’s my second post on spiders. If you’d like to hear about one that’s attracted to humans’ scent, I invite you to check out my first blog post. […]


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