Blood Drinking Spiders!

The above is a jumping spider native to Africa:

Evarcha culicivora, is found only around Lake Victoria in Kenya and Uganda. A species of jumping spider, or salticid, it usually hunts insects on tree trunks and buildings. It stalks its prey rather than trapping it in a web.

At the moment it is pretty unique. You see it has a taste for mammal – and human – blood! How do we know this? Scientists recently conducted prey preference experiments. This is how it works:

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.

Tests of the spider’s prey preferences showed it went for blood-engorged female mosquitoes in 83 percent of cases when offered a choice of two similar-size insects.

When it came to making a choice based on smell alone, with the two meal options hidden from view, around 90 percent of jumping spiders selected the blood-filled mosquito.

Although many spiders have relatively poor eyesight—those that use webs to trap prey have no need for acute vision, Nelson says—jumping spiders are an exception.

“Salticids are predators that actively search for prey and mates and typically do not build webs,” she said. “They have evolved eyes that support high-acuity vision suited to their active lifestyle.”

Spiders don’t have the skin-piercing mouth parts needed to feed directly on human blood, but the mosquito-munching jumping spider appears to have got around this. The strategy has other advantages as well, Nelson points out.

“Blood-feeding is a dangerous activity,” she said. “Animals that are bitten have a swatting response, and often the insect is killed.”

So, essentially the spider has come up with a method to avoid being swatted and still specialize on blood.

The study team suspects a blood meal is also biologically important to E. culicivora.

They say spiders expend a lot of energy breaking solid food down into liquid by injecting their prey with digestive enzymes.

“Perhaps blood is a ready-made, nutrient-rich liquid meal,” Nelson said.

Although spiders creep me out, I think this is a fascinating study in evolution. Mosquitos specialize on blood as a food source as does E. culicivora but both have evolved different methods to obtain it. It would be interesting to find out if mosquitos were E. culicivora’s primary prey or if this is a recent addition to their diet. It would also be interesting to see if there is a closely related species that doesn’t feed on mosquitos (I’m thinking of Rhagoletis pomonella).

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