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Black Widow Spiders Conquer Entirely New Territories As They Go North

Aug 12, 2018 09:12 PM EDT
Black Widow Spider
Black widow spiders travel farther and farther north, settling in entirely new areas possibly in the wake of climate change. Citizen scientists play a huge role in the findings.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Black widow spiders are one of the most notorious creepy crawlies on the planet. Now, research says they are conquering a greater territory.

The black widow's venom is extremely potent, causing muscle pain, nausea, and even paralysis of the diaphragm. While bites from these critters usually do no serious harm, fatalities are possible, especially in small children, elderly, and sick people.

It is not surprising that many are wary of this type of spider. However, Canada should really be more familiar with the species as a comprehensive study that includes contributions from citizen scientists reveal that spiders are creeping farther and farther north.

Spiders Crawl To The North

In a new species distribution map published in the journal PLOS One, scientists from the McGill University found that the Northern black widow and Black purse-web spider have expanded their territories further north.

"Our models show the first reliable distribution maps of these two species," Yifu Wang of McGill University says in a statement.

Gizmodo reports that the northernmost region of the black widow's habitat increased by around 31 miles or 50 kilometers in the past 60 years, reaching eastern Ontario and Quebec. Meanwhile, the black purse-web spider also heads north, decreasing in population in the southwest region of its territory and increasing in the northern edge toward Canada.

According to the researchers, it is entirely possible that the spiders' territories are even larger than their findings indicate, perhaps extending an additional 30 miles north.

The presence of black widow spiders in new regions give health officials a heads up so they could be prepared for potential incidents concerning the species.

The team suggests that climate change may have played a role in the migration, considering that climate is a huge factor in determining the species' habitat.

Citizen Scientists Pitch In

The researchers gathered data and photos with the help of citizen scientists, a release from McGill University explains. With the number of professional field biologists quite limited, the volume of information collected from the public is invaluable.

"People who are excited about discovering where species live can contribute in meaningful ways to scientific progress and this is exciting, important, and is changing how we do research," says Christopher Buddle, a McGill professor.

Wang added that the next step will still involve maximizing the potential of citizen science and that the team is proposing a monitoring project through BugGuide and iNaturalist.

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