Did You Know? Spiders Feast on More than Just Insects
Most people find them creepy and will take the necessary steps, such as hiring a professional pest management company, to keep these insects out of their homes. But others don’t seem to mind having a spider or two around the house, as they are known to eat other insects.
However, scientist Martin Nyffeler, who studies spiders at the University of Basel in Switzerland, has discovered that some spiders also eat plants.
“I always found this topic very intriguing,” he says, “since I am a vegetarian myself.”
Nyffler and his team have observed that some spiders feed on leaves by digesting them with enzymes prior to eating, just as they do when eating other insects. Other spiders pierce a leaf with their chelicerae, and then suck out plant sap. What’s more, some even drink nectar from flowers and other plants!
Are you surprised that some spiders have a “vegetarian” diet? Do you do what it takes to keep them out of your home?
Scientists have started using a new technique to study the insects that end up in a spider’s web. While in the past researchers would simply shake a tree canopy and wait for spiders to fall out so they could study them, among other crude methods, today researchers are able to simply scan the DNA in a spider web, a much less invasive technique. Using this DNA detection method, researchers are able to valuable information about the insects that get trapped in their webs. The DNA from the prey can be detected over 88 days after the insect is no longer trapped in the web. With spiders building webs in so many places, researchers can perform broad environmental monitoring using these DNA scans for research, as well as to be able to estimate which prey species of insects are present in a certain area. This could lead to better insect control overall, as well as help monitoring specific pest insects. The possibilities are endless with this new DNA scanning technology.
Can you see the benefit of being able to monitor the prey insects in an area through studying a spider’s web? What do you think of this new technology?
Hulett Environmental Services offers the following tips to help prevent contact with spiders:
- Avoid keeping clothing and shoes on the floor, especially if in an area known for spiders; consider storing inside plastic containers.
- Seal cracks and crevices around the home.
- Vacuum/sweep away webs in and around the home.
- Shake out all clothing that has been in the laundry basket before wearing/washing.
- Keep garages, attics and basements clean and clutter free.
- If a spider bites you, contact your primary care physician for medical advice.
- If you have an infestation in your home, contact a licensed pest control professional to inspect and treat the pest problem.
Scientists at Oregon State University wanted to find out exactly how spiders sense the vibration in the webs when insects land on them and how they detect where that insect has landed. To do this they built a web out of two different kinds of rope, just as spiders use two different kinds of silk, and placed on in an octagonal frame, to which a speaker was strapped to deliver different vibrations. They then placed an artificial spider in the center that has flexible legs to show how a real spider would detect the vibrations. They thought that they would find that by shaking one of the radial lines the spider would feel that lines more than the others and thus attack in that direction. However, they discovered that it is much more complex than that.
They found that different frequencies caused complex vibration patterns affecting many strands of the web. Different frequencies also caused certain strands to stay completely still. The researchers hypothesized that these different frequencies might reflect different insects landing on the web. This means that spiders can’t simply rely on one strand vibrating to lead them to their prey. They must understand how different frequencies affect the web structure in order to know which direction to attack. It turns out that spiders might just be a bit more sophisticated in their hunting techniques than we previously thought.
How do you think spiders learn to understand the different frequencies made by their webs? Is it a case of trial and error or are they taught this?
The Incredible Journey of Ancient Spiders
A genus of spider that can only travel by land may be the key to understanding how continents and land masses have drifted over the millennia. The spider group, called liphistiids, are sometimes known as a “living fossil” because of how little they have changed over millions of years.
Currently, this chubby little burrow-dweller lives only in East and Southeast Asia. The arachnid’s existence dates back to at least 295 million years, and its original fossil ancestor was discovered in France.
Since the Earth was once a single, giant continent, much about how “continental drift” – or the breaking apart of the one land mass into continents – occurred still isn’t fully understood. But the spider’s long migration patterns may shed some light onto what the possible intercontinental routes existed.
Recent research examined 2,000 specimens to determine that, about 24 million years ago, the older cousins evolved into the current 89 species. Prior to that, the first liphistiid branched out from their ancient ancestors between 39 and 58 million years ago. The more recent split coincided with a period when the subcontinent of Eurasia met up with India.
The researchers are continuing to hypothesize which of three possible routes brought the spiders over land from Europe to Asia.
Webspinner Leads Amazing Life
She’s called Embioptera, or webspinner, and she lives her whole life in a complicated maze of silk. Neither spider nor silkworm, she nonetheless can spin just as effectively: those who’ve studied her say she is in evolutionary holdover, the only insect silk-spinning legs.
The webspinner is often mistaken for the prey of a spider, as she is found deep inside what looks like a prison of silk strands. She lives inside tree bark, where she spends her entire life constructing an extremely elaborate, multi-layered web, full of tunnels and rooms. A web mansion, you might call it.
Specialized structures on this insect’s legs create silk. Looking much like a long-bodied ant or termite, this bug can crawl very rapidly both forward and backward. Considering the complexity of her home, she needs to be able to move fast in tight spaces.
The male webspinner is an odd creature, sometimes wingless, who has to generally crawl in order to find a mate. Because crawling through someone else’s tunnel can be confusing and exhausting, the males prefer to pick family members for mating. After the larval stage, the winged males develop into adulthood and never eat again. Their anatomy doesn’t allow for it – they get wings, but no mouths.
The mouth parts are really only there to grab a female, and mate. Unable to eat, they starve and become a food source for any of the tribe’s females.
The Amazing Spider Brain!
Spiders are extraordinary creatures. Spiderman is perhaps the most well known demonstration of what spiders are capable of. And just like Peter Parker, spiders are not only phyiscally extraordianry but are mentally adept as well. The spider may be small and unassuming but its brain, like spider man, is nothing short of amazing.
With just apoppy-seed-sized head, spiders employ sophisticated hunting methods. They can successfully navigate their way out of complicated labyrinths, and some have developed a mating dance that takes the breath away from their fellow spiders. Elaborate decorations on the male’s abdomens come in bright fluorescent colors, with patterns that look like human faces and other artistic designs. Truly amazing. But the whole spider is only about five millimeters long. What is truly and even more amazing is a central nervous system that allows the male to raise and shake its colorful banner on command, and raise its third legs, in a complex mating display that could last an hour.
Mating is just one behavior controlled by a spider’s brain. The brain is aslo responsible for engaging all its senses, knowing how to hunt and find food and knowing how to operate its eight legs in a coordinated way.
Another amazing feature is their sophisticated visual systems. Jumping spiders have eight eyes. Mutiple eyes gives them a 360 degree (nearly) panoramic view in addition to two front-facing eyes that are as acute as as human’s. This visual combination allows these spiders to pursue and pounce on prey in the same way that cats do. The question that has been puzzzling scientists is how the spider brain actually processes the visual information.
Cornell biologist Ronald Hoy is one of the first scientists to look inside a live spider’s brain with a tiny electrode. He noted tha the organization of the spider brain is similar to any other brain. “If you look at a section of spider brain you’ll find that there are clusters of cell bodies with a cabling of the axons going from one part to another part and that’strue of insects and that’s true of us too,” Hoy says. “Things are just more compact in a spider’s brain because you’re packing a normal head brain into the thoracic ganglion.”
While it’s normal to see bats, spiders and other creatures invade your front doorstep on Halloween in the form of trick-or-treaters or spooky décor, Hulett Environmental Services advises people to be on the lookout for real-life ghoulish pests this fall.
Halloween is a fun celebration of all things creepy and crawly, but it also serves as a reminder that actual pest infestations can cause quite the fright. The spirit of this spooky holiday, we are reminding homeowners to take preventative measures to keep pests from taking up residence indoors.
Here’s a guide to some common critters that may spook homeowners this fall, along with tips to prevent them from turning the home into a haunted house.
Rats – One of the most reviled pests, rats can contaminate food, spread dangerous diseases and create fire hazards by chewing through electrical wires. Before homeowners bring boxes of pumpkins and faux cobwebs inside to decorate for Halloween, they should inspect them for signs of an infestation such as gnaw marks and rodent droppings.
Spiders – Some species of spiders, mainly the brown recluse and black widow, can administer a painful bite when disturbed. Homeowners can avoid coming in contact with spiders by wearing heavy gloves when moving items that have been stored for a long period of time and shaking out shoes before wearing them.
Bed bugs – Bed bugs are similar to vampires in that they feed off of human blood, typically at night. These elusive pests do not transmit disease, but they can leave red, itchy welts on the skin. Before dressing up in a costume that came from a rental or second-hand store, make sure to inspect it for bed bugs.
Hulett Environmental Services offers some additional tips to prevent a pest infestation this Halloween season:
- Seal cracks and crevices around the home’s exterior using caulk and steel wool. Pay close attention to where utility pipes enter the structure.
- Keep basements, attics and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.
- Keep kitchen counters clean, store food in airtight containers and dispose of garbage regularly in sealed receptacles.
- Store fire wood at least 20 feet away from the house and keep shrubbery well trimmed.
- If you see signs of an infestation in your home, contact a licensed pest professional.
Talk about adaptation! This impala from the Kruger National Park in South African is now a mobile home for a spider with the spider’s web spun between the impala’s two horns. The impala had the misfortune to walk into the spiders web, and it seems to have settled in for a permanent stay!
Hulett Environmental Services reminds homeowners that there are several ways to prevent spider bites and keep them out of the house all together:
- Install screens and weather stripping on windows and door sweeps on doors.
- Fix any cracks in siding and walls, especially where pipes or wires enter the home.
- Store clothing and shoes inside plastic containers, and shake out all clothing that has been in a hamper, on the floor or in storage before wearing.
- Wear heavy gloves when moving items that have been stored for a long period of time.
- Inspect shoes before wearing them, as spiders often hide inside.
- Reduce clutter in basements, garages and attics.
- Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house.