Ecology Scientific Speculation Vector borne diseases

Welcome to my parlour said the spider to the mosquito

It is Sharad Purnima, and I am at a garaba venue that looks almost bollywoodish with columns of smoke rising from piles of neem-leaves set afire to keep mosquitoes at bay.

With no mosquitoes in sight, I am sure that the organizers are happy to have polluted the air for a rightful reason; but I am really worried as, apart from few moths, I see the place completely devoid of insect-life. And I am convinced that it is not the smoke but the rampant use of pesticides that has done it.

Our dengue-paranoia has led us to wage a chemical war against insects that is also causing ecology-destroying collateral damage because it is not differentiating the harmful from the useful. We need a natural and nature-friendly solution for the mosquito problem and we need it now.

Interestingly, nature has already provided us with an able ally in our war against mosquitoes; but, we have mistaken this friend to be a foe.

Fear of spider is one of the most primordial fears found across the globe. It is completely inexplicable as spiders are neither disease-carriers nor venomous enough to be feared thus; but, apparently, there exists a universal pact amongst the females of our species to not share their hearth with these eight-legged creatures.

Cometh Diwali and Indian households go into a cleaning overdrive. Long-handled-broom-carrying infantry is sent on missions to all nooks and corners of the house to locate and destroy arachnid homes.

While we are hell bent on eradicating spiders out of a seemingly irrational fear, we fail to see that they are, probably, the only predators of mosquitoes that live with us. Spiders are our greatest allies in our war against the mosquito-menace, but, instead of appreciating them, we actually work in mosquitoes’ favor by making our homes spider-free.

Unfortunately, India being not exactly a researchers’ heaven, we don’t have well documented proof of the role played by spiders in mosquito-control, but 2010 floods in Pakistan provided an interesting insight.

As the flood waters caused spiders to climb up into trees for safety, a large number of trees got completely cocooned by webs due to unprecedented spider presence. Interestingly, when mosquito-borne diseases that normally follow floods did not strike with intensity matching the floods, naturalists realized that these cotton-candy-looking trees had acted as great mosquito-traps. Spiders had saved the day for humans, and that too without polluting or damaging the ecosystem in any manner.

Spider’s ability to prey on small insects like mosquitoes requires to be appreciated from evolutionary perspective too.

Biology is nothing but economics as it strictly follows the profit-loss logic. As food-search costs energy, only the food that provides more energy than what it costs to search for it can become viable diet. Mosquitoes, being small (low in calories) and mobile (tough to catch), preying upon them is hardly worth it. But spider has found a unique way to make this tough equation work for it.

Spider web, an amazing product of evolution, allows the spider to just sit in one place without expanding energy and trap its food in the most economical way, making it a rare predator of mosquito, and a much needed friend for us.

It is important that we capitalize on this brilliant creation of evolution and use it. All we need to do is to get rid of the irrational fear for spiders instead of spiders.

Interestingly, Diwali also coincides with lean period for mosquitoes; so, if we allow spiders to prosper within our homes, they will be able to seriously impact mosquito seed-population of next year.

This Diwali, instead of removing the cob-webs for the home, let us remove them from our minds.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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