Insects

How ‘vampire’ spiders could help in the fight against malaria

Evarcha culicivora

Evarcha culicivora  (University of Canterbury)

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand has highlighted a pair of unlikely recruits in the battle against human malaria – two species of spider.

In particular, the research by Fiona Cross and Professor Robert Jackson cited Evarcha culicivora, an eight-legged vampire, which is drawn to female mosquitoes whose guts are filled with blood.

“Evarcha culicivora has a particular hankering for Anopheles mosquitoes – the very mosquitoes notorious for being malaria vectors,” said Jackson, in a statement. “This little spider is a predator that likes us and eats our enemies.”

The study also highlighted the role of the Paracyrba wanlessi spider, which feeds on mosquito larvae lurking in pools of water inside bamboo.

Both spiders are found in Kenya but live in very different habitats. Evarcha culicivora is typically found on the walls of buildings inhabited by people in East Africa while Paracyrba wanlessi is found in hollow stems of bamboo.

“These two spider species are highly specialised mosquito assassins,” said Cross, in the statement. “Like Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the James Cameron movie ‘The Terminator’, these little specialist predators ignore any other insects that get in the way as they pursue their target victims – mosquitoes.”

Jackson added that, by attacking blood-filled mosquitoes, Evarcha culicivora acquires a “blood perfume” that is attractive to members of the opposite sex.

The scientists’ study has been published in the Journal of Arachnology. In the Journal, the researchers explained that humans have nothing to fear from the spiders, noting that malaria is a mosquito-borne, not spider-borne disease. “It is exceedingly difficult to make a rational case for worrying about malarial spider bites,” they said.