Friday, 8 June 2012

'Vampire spiders' spot victims by antennae


"Vampire" jumping spiders from East Africa identify their mosquito victims by their antennae, research has revealed.
A team led by scientists from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand studied the "unique" arachnids.
They used model "Frankenstein mosquitoes" and 3D animation to investigate the spiders' diet.
Results showed that spiders could see minute differences in body and antennae appearance when choosing their prey.
"The thing that really amazed me is that I couldn't actually see the difference [in antennae] when I was looking at the screen", said Dr Ximena Nelson from the University of Canterbury.
Evarcha culicovora spiders live in Kenya and are part of the jumping spider family (Salticidae), which is best known for agile movement and incredible vision.
However, this "vampire spider" is unique because it feeds indirectly on vertebrate blood by catching mosquitoes (particularly Anopheles- a malaria-carrying mosquito) that have recently fed on blood.
Male mosquitoes do not drink blood, so they are less nutritionally beneficial than females, which often have blood in their abdomens.
Observations that the spiders' diet was particularly high in blood-filled female mosquitoes made Dr Nelson question how the spiders picked them out from the array of similarly-sized insects available to eat.
"Obviously, blood-fed females have an engorged red abdomen and the other difference that comes to mind between [mosquito] males and females is the antennae," Dr Nelson said.

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