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Vampire Spiders & Frankensquitoes

July 2, 2012

Scientists mix and match mosquito body parts to discover which traits predatory spiders like most.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Franken-squitoes! I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Vampire jumping spiders from Africa love to eat female Anopheles mosquitoes, which are the main vectors of human malaria. But how do the spiders recognize their favorite prey? University of Canterbury behavioral ecologists Robert Jackson and Ximena Nelson created Frankenstein mosquitoes to find out. They made 3-D animations of the bloodsuckers, combining body parts from males and females of different species. Then they let the spiders take their pick.

XIMENA NELSON (University of Canterbury, New Zealand):

They had a little miniature movie theatre, which projected the image of two mosquitoes side by side doing exactly the same thing, and they would just jump onto whatever side they wanted to go to.

HIRSHON:

The spiders picked the animation that combined the female Anopheles’ antennae shape with a blood-filled abdomen more than any other combination of traits. They  may favor these particular mosquitoes because consuming human blood makes them smell sexier to potential mates. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

A vampire jumping spider feasting on its favorite prey. (Robert Jackson/University of Canterbury)