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Jumping Spiders Learn To Distinguish Red Toxic Prey From Yummy Blood-Filled Mosquitoes

Dec 06, 2015 03:06 PM EST
Jumping spiders, one of which is pictured here, are vital for agricultural pest management.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Jumping spiders are vital for agriculture pest control, and a new study revealed the species can even learn to distinguish the important color red in their prey, thus adapting to any new or invasive species that include that hue in their color scheme.

"We show that they are able to learn to associate the color red with toxic prey -- and avoid it -- or to associate red with high-quality prey and seek it out," Lisa Taylor, an assistant research scientist in entomology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, explained in a news release. "One reason this is important is that is helps us understand how these spiders might interact with a new type of prey that appears in their environment."

Jumping spiders will consume almost any small agricultural pests, ranging from caterpillars to beetles and flies. Not only does this naturally reduce the amount of agricultural damage from insect pests, but it means farmers can avoid using chemical treatments to protect their crops.

In total, more than 5,000 species of jumping spiders can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Being able to adapt to your environment is a key evolutionary skill. Since the spiders are able to distinguish which foods are nutritious, from those that are harmful, they can stay alive longer and manage a wide variety of pests. (Scroll to read more...)

(Photo : University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences)
Habronattus pyrrithrix, a species of jumping spiders, can learn to prefer or avoid red-colored prey, thus avoiding potentially toxic insects.

For their study, researchers examined a species of jumping spiders scientifically known as Habronattus pyrrithrix. Previously, scientists believed these spiders were predisposed to avoid red-colored prey. However, if that were the case, the arachnids could end up avoiding a new species of red insects that appeared in an area where the spiders live, even it were nontoxic. This suggests they would unnecessarily miss out on eating red, blood-filled mosquitoes, for example.

Instead, the spiders can be trained to prefer or avoid red -- which is important because many pests emit that color to signal toxicity, Taylor said.

"This study shows that the spiders will test out new prey and quickly learn and remember the colors associated with them," Taylor added. "This helps the jumping spider survive because they can make more informed choices about what to eat. For humans, it's good because it means that spiders can respond to changes in prey communities and be more effective biological control agents."

Their findings were recently published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

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