Olfaction-based behaviour in a mosquito-eating jumping spider

author: Fiona Cross, College of Science, University of Canterbury
published: March 13, 2013,   recorded: September 2012,   views: 3503

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Jumping spiders (family Salticidae) are known for having unique, complex eyes and a capacity for spatial vision exceeding that for any other animals of a similar size. Not surprisingly, the vision-based behaviour of these animals has been emphasised in the literature. However, recent research on Evarcha culicivora, a salticid from the Lake Victoria region of East Africa, illustrates that having exceptionally good eyesight does not preclude highly developed capacity for also using olfaction. There are numerous contexts in which E. culicivora shows specialised use of vision and olfaction as well as an interplay of these two modalities and, by examining these contexts, we have come to a better understanding of cognitive specialisation with this animal. E. culicivora’s predatory strategy is unique because it feeds indirectly on vertebrate blood by seeking blood-carrying mosquitoes as its preferred prey. E. culicivora can identify this unusual prey by sight alone and by olfaction alone, but these two sensory modalities also work together, with the odour of blood-carrying mosquitoes priming E. culicivora to find this prey by sight even when the spider has never encountered this particular prey before. Moreover,E. culicivora targets the genus Anopheles as its preferred mosquitoes, this being an especially interesting prey choice. Anopheles is notorious for being the genus to which all human malaria vectors belong, and Anopheles gambiae is especially known for being anthropophilic. By examining E. culicivora’s olfaction-based behaviour, we have discovered that this spider is also anthropophilic and that it has an exceedingly complex mating system that is interrelated with its predatory strategy. These are important insights into E. culicivora’s biology that would not be known by examining its vision-based behaviour alone.

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