Why Researchers Are Fascinated With The Spider Species That Eats Only Termites

Why Researchers Are Fascinated With The Spider Species That Eats Only Termites

Animal Predators can be either picky or indiscriminate when it comes to their feeding choices. There does not exist any predators that can eat just anything, as every predator species has its own tastes. Researchers have also never discovered any predatory animals that only consume one single species, except for one. Recently researchers discovered the very first monophagous true predator, which is a predator that consumes only one particular species of animal. The predator in question is a type of spider that belongs to the Ammoxenidae genus. Researchers have demonstrated that at least one spider species in the Ammoxenidae family preys upon, and consumes only one termite species. This termite species is known as Hodotermes mossambicus.

The Hodotermes mossambicus species of termite is more commonly referred to as the harvester termite, and they can be highly destructive to grassland and other forms of vegetation. Ammoxenid spiders live both in and out of soil and they are sometimes called sand divers due to their ability to dive headfirst into the ground when threatened. Since these termites and spiders both inhabit South African soil, they naturally encounter each other often, and these encounters never end well for the harvester termites. The spiders are always found to be concentrated in regions that are also highly populated with harvester termites, as the harvesters are their only food source. Ammoxenid spiders are able to detect termites either through vibrations or chemical cues. Once a young Ammoxenid spider is given its first harvester termite prey, the spider picks up on tactile cues from this initial encounter in order to locate more harvester termites on its own in the future.

The spider will first attack a harvester by biting one in between its head and cephalothorax. The harvester is then pulled beneath the soil’s surface where it is sucked of all its innards. Since harvester termites are not active year round, the spiders must collect enough harvester prey to keep on reserve during the termites off season. The spiders collect extra harvester termites by placing them in silken sacs for later consumption. The Ammoxenid spiders and their silken sacs are often found habitating abandoned harvester termite mounds.

Do you think that there are more spiders or insects that prey upon one particular species, but scientist have yet to discover them?



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A Rat Species Native To The Southwest US Has Been Causing Thousands Of Dollars In Damages To People’s Vehicles

Many people find rats to be revolting creatures, and not just because they are ugly. Rats are notorious for being instrumental in the spread of numerous diseases. Centuries ago, rats facilitated the spread of the Bubonic Plague within Europe. This 14th century pandemic reduced Europe’s population by 50 million people, which was somewhere between 25 to 60 percent of the continent’s total population. Since then, large scale plague outbreaks have occured in other areas of the world, such as Asia and Africa. Needless to say, these pandemics were enough to earn house and field rats a negative reputation that has endured to this day. However, not all rats are ugly creatures associated with deadly disease. For example, the White-throated woodrat (Neotoma albigula) is a packrat that is native to the southwest United States, and by most accounts, the rodents are surprisingly cute and even pet-worthy. Although these packrats are not commonly associated with disease, they are certainly pests to structures, specifically vehicles and homes. One Tucson resident discovered that 6,000 dollars worth of damage had been inflicted onto his Toyota Tundra in just one night by either one or several of these mischievous rats.

Packrats often nest beneath the hood of vehicles, beneath wood scraps and/or garbage and in attics and cacti. Not long ago, a resident of southern Arizona, Richard Wood, had been hauling his horse carriage when he suddenly noticed all of his lights and alarm bells going off in his truck’s cab. Upon pulling over and opening the hood, the man found extensive damage to his engine, especially the wiring, and his entire undercarriage had been chewed thoroughly. Later on, a mechanic found the culprit–two dead packrats within the engine compartment. According to Wood, packrats pose a serious threat to vehicles in southern Arizona because the rodents have adapted to humans moving into their environment. Packrats dwell within the desert but they have adapted to living on the fringes of human society. Packrat infestations in vehicles and homes has increased in accordance with the rapid urbanization that has occurred during the past several decades in southern Arizona. Today, numerous pest control specialists have become established in the region in order to address southern Arizona’s packrat scourge.

Have you ever noticed inexplicable damage to your car that you may now believe was the work of packrats?




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A 130 Million Year Old Fossil Contains Insects

Discovering ancient insects that are well preserved within amber is always exciting for entomologists, but a recent fossil discovery is unlike anything ever discovered before. A recent study describes a fossil that contains insects that are emerging from their eggs. This is an extraordinarily unique find and researchers are not exactly sure how such a fossil could come to exist. Also, the insects contained within the amber possess a strange anatomical feature that allows them to break free from their hard egg shells. These fossilized insects are now extinct, but they are closely related to modern green lacewings.

The tool that these extinct insects used to break free from their shells is aptly referred to as an “egg buster.” According the study’s author, Dr. Michael Engel, egg bursting anatomical features detach from the bodies of newborn insects very quickly, but this recent fossil is the only one in existence that shows this feature on extinct insects. The fossil was determined to be 130 million years old, which means that this egg bursting bodily feature existed on insects as far back as the cretaceous period, a fact that was previously unknown to experts. The fossil also demonstrates that egg bursting physical features have not changed much over the past 130 million years of insect evolution. However, researchers are not in precise agreement concerning the circumstances that allowed these newborn insects to become fossilized within amber right as they were hatching. The most likely scenario is that the eggs had been placed on a tree trunk before sap bled from the trees, effectively covering the insects right as they were hatching. Egg bursting features are diverse in shape and location, but the fossilized insects possess an egg bursting appendage that resembles the ones possessed by their modern relatives living in the same location. This feature resembles a jagged blade and it is quickly discarded upon hatching.

Have you ever witnessed an insect hatching from its egg?




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A Massive Art Exhibition Is Allowing Visitors To Explore Termite Habitats From A Termite’s Perspective

You probably have not heard many artists claim to have been inspired by insects, let alone termites, but one famous artist, Nicholas Mangan, is an exception in this regard. Mangan has recently contributed an art display to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum as a part of the museum’s exhibit titled: Post Nature–A Museum as an Ecosystem. Most of Mangan’s work highlights aspects of the ecosystem that many people are unfamiliar with. For example, Mangan’s latest exhibit focuses on the positive effect that termites have on the ecosystem.

Mangan is calling his exhibit Termite Economics, and it consists of 3D printed models of different termite habitats, including nesting mounds, earthen tunnel networks and dwelling chambers within blocks of wood. All of his 3D models were constructed from plaster, dirt, synthetic polymer paint, and plywood. In addition to the habitat models, Mangan also commissioned drone footage of particular regions of Australia’s arid landscape where termites are known to be active. This footage is played on a continuous loop in order to provide spectators with a termite’s point of view as it navigates terrain and approaches its nest. The footage is played on a computer that is situated amongst Mangan’s models. This exhibition was inspired by current termite research being conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO.

Researchers working for CSIRO are currently studying how subterranean termites can lead humans toward rare mineral sources that are located far below the ground where they cannot be viewed by humans. Mangan believes that CSIRO research shows how social cooperation among termites allows the insects to achieve feats that are beyond human capabilities, such as complicated mound architecture, and in this case, mining, so to speak. Mangan’s exhibit allows people to understand how the mining and world-building capability of termites reflects manmade economic systems and social hierarchies. For Mangan, a termite colony is like a tiny universe that closely resembles human sociality.

Do you believe that termite sociality is similar to human sociality?

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The Worst Insect Pests In Christmas Trees Are The Ones That People Do Not See

Many Americans have become aware of the risk of insect infestations that result from bringing a Christmas tree into a home. This past fall, this blog, and numerous online articles have repeatedly described how problematic insect pests can be brought into a home by hitching a ride on a Christmas tree.But very few, if any articles have mentioned the types of insects that commonly infest homes as a result of this tradition. According to Scientist and insect expert, Rob Johns, it is not easy to predict which common Christmas tree pests may become a problem within a home, as the insect pests that exist within forests are not the same ones that will infest a home after separating from a Christmas tree.

Rob Johns’ job is to make sure that commercial Christmas tree growers prevent their trees from becoming infected with insect-borne diseases. Unfortunately, Christmas trees are well known among experts for having a low tolerance for certain insect pests, most notably spruce bud worm and the gall midge. Aesthetic damage is the most basic form of Christmas tree damage, and this form of damage is often inflicted by insect pests that feed on a Christmas tree’s pine needles. It is also worth noting that the most troublesome Christmas tree pests are the ones that are most difficult to notice. For example, in Nova Scotia, the Boston gall midge is one of the primary killers of pine trees, but the damage they cause is typically not noticed until it is too late. These tiny insects lay their eggs within single pine needles, making them invisible to the human eye. This pest can lay millions of eggs within one single tree, resulting in all a tree’s pine needles dropping to the ground within a short time. The spruce bud worm is another insect pest that commonly infests older trees, or new trees that are stored near older trees. This insect pest is not well understood, as researchers are not sure why outbreaks of spruce bud worm only occur at 35 year cycles.

Insect pest-infested Christmas trees has already become a problem this year within the state of Utah. The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has been asking residents to inspect their Christmas trees for insect pests before bringing them indoors. The gypsy moth and the pine shoot beetle are the two insects that are of particular concern to authorities in Utah.

Have you ever found insects within a Christmas tree?

10 Tips To Prevent Termites From Damaging Your Home

Gilbert Termite Control Experts

10 Tips To Prevent Termites From Damaging Your Home!

  1. Eliminate or reduce moisture in and around the home, which termites need to thrive.
  2. Repair leaking faucets, water pipes and exterior AC units.
  3. Repair fascia, soffits and rotted roof shingles.
  4. Replace weather stripping and loose mortar around basement foundation and windows.
  5. Divert water away from the house through properly functioning downspouts, gutters and splash blocks.
  6. Routinely inspect the foundation of a home for signs of mud tubes (used by termites to reach a food source), uneven or bubbling paint and wood that sounds hollow when tapped.
  7. Monitor all exterior areas of wood, including windows, doorframes and skirting boards for any noticeable changes.
  8. Maintain an 18-inch gap between soil and any wood portions of your home.
  9. Consider scheduling a professional inspection annually. Wood-boring insect damage is not covered by homeowners’ insurance policies.
  10. Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house.
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Bites From Old World Tarantulas Can Be Deadly Due To Their Need To Compensate For A Lack Of Defensive Features


Tarantula spiders are divided into two categories: old world tarantulas and new world tarantulas. Old world tarantulas include the tarantulas that lack urticating hairs, and instead rely on nothing more than their venomous bites for defense. Old world tarantulas get their name from being more common in Asia and Africa. New world spiders are largely limited to the Americas and they comprise spiders that possess urticating hairs in addition to fangs that deliver venom. New world tarantulas are able to fling their abdominal hairs into their enemies faces, which causes severe irritation in humans. These defensive hairs are known as urticating hairs, and many tarantula owners must exercise caution in order to avoid them. Old world tarantula venom is typically more potent than new world tarantula venom, as old world tarantulas have no other method of defense available to them when faced with enemies. This makes old world tarantula bites relatively dangerous to humans. In fact, sustaining a bite from an old world tarantula can cause muscle spasms, cramps and eventual death unless an antivenom is administered to a human victim in time.

People all over the world keep and breed tarantulas as pets, and the creatures are typically dismissed by experts as being harmless. Most pet tarantulas are new world specimens and while their urticating hairs can cause allergic reactions in humans, medical literature describes the consequences of their bite in humans as being trivial. However, this is not the case with old world tarantulas, as one study described two old world tarantula owners who suffered severe medical problems following a bite from the Lampropelma nigerrimum and Pterinochilus murinus species. The two men experienced identical symptoms, which included severe localized swelling and persistent and agonizingly painful muscle cramps that lasted more than a week. A third man who sustained a bite from the old world Poecilotheria regalis species developed muscle spasms in addition to the symptoms experienced by the other two men. According to researchers, the toxic effects of old world tarantula venom has been documented but largely ignored in medical literature. Although antivenom for old world tarantula bites do exist, researchers have yet to uncover the particular toxins responsible for the serious medical symptoms that result from their bites. Discovering these toxins would be of great scientific and therapeutic benefit.

Have you ever sustained a bite from a pet tarantula?


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How Do Stick Insects Respond To The Predators That See Through Their Camouflage?

How Do Stick Insects Respond To The Predators That See Through Their Camouflage?

Phasmids are a particular order of insects that are more commonly known as stick insects. Phasmids comprise an abundance of species located in various regions of the world. Scientists have documented around 3,000 different phasmid species, but more are being found regularly. Phasmids are closely related to crickets, praying mantids, cockroaches and katydids. Most people will recognize an immediate association between the well-camouflaged praying mantid and the cryptic phasmid, as phasmids hide from predators by using their stick-like appearance to blend in with foliage, hence their common name, stick insects. Although phasmids and praying mantids are both blessed with the evolutionary gift of camouflage, praying mantids are carnivorous and predatory while phasmids are herbivores and relatively passive. Considering this difference, phasmids are far more reliant on their natural camouflaged appearance for their survival than praying mantids are. However, this does not necessarily mean that phasmids are doomed to being eaten alive when a predator manages to see through their disguise.

Unfortunately for female phasmid species, only the males are able to use their wings in order to make airborne escapes from predators. When a female phasmid becomes aware that it is being eyed by a predator, it will attempt to perform natural-looking movements in order to escape the predator’s visual contact. For example, a female phasmid may move itself behind an object in a manner that makes it look like a leaf being blown in the wind. If this particular method is not an option, or has failed, then a female phasmid can violently flicker its wings as a show of intimidation to deter predators from attacking. In order to compensate for their inability to make airborne escapes, some female phasmid species can intimidate predators by exposing a colorful stripe located beneath one of their wings. In the insect and spider world, bright colors on insect and spider bodies indicates their toxicity to predators. Although female phasmid species are not toxic to predators, some species have, nevertheless, acquired the colorful stripe as a survival adaptation. This colorful stripe only becomes visible during the female’s defensive display.

Have you ever witnessed the violent defeat of an insect by another smaller insect?


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Termites May Have Infested The Primitive Dwellings Built By Ancient American Indians

Termites May Have Infested The Primitive Dwellings Built By Ancient American Indians

Termites are among the oldest of all insect groups, so these destructive pests must have been known to ancient humans. It can be assumed that ancient peoples dreaded termites just as much as moderns do. In fact, there exists evidence to suggest that termites may have infested the primitive homes constructed by Native Americans thousands of years ago.

It is not uncommon for archeologists to recover ancient termite fecal pellets from dig sites. Back in 1984, an entomologist correctly identified a mysterious and tiny object that had been unearthed in Arizona. This object was a prehistoric fecal pellet, and it originated from an area of Arizona that contains remnants of ancient living structures that had been built by Native Americans at least ten centuries ago. Although this termite pellet, and many others, were well-preserved, it was determined that the pellet had been burned, possibly as a result of burning firewood that contained termite colonies. It was also determined that the fecal pellets had been expelled by either drywood or dampwood termites.

Unlike subterranean termites, which dwell within soil, both drywood and dampwood termites live out their entire lives within one single piece of wood. For these termites, their home is also their food source, therefore, foraging is not necessary for these termites. The drywood termite pellets found within the ancient structures did not exactly resemble the fecal pellets that are expelled by modern wood-dwelling termites in Arizona. While this finding is peculiar, researchers are more interested in how the drywood termites came to be associated with ancient Native American dwellings. One theory states that ancient Native Americans burned and stored firewood that contained termites. Another theory states that termites infested certain wood and plant materials that were used to construct ancient structures.

In Snowflake and Phoenix, Arizona, termite fecal pellets were unearthed from ancient fire pits. Pueblo and Anasazi Native American tribes were known for using wood and plant materials for constructing the side walls and roofs of their largely mud-constructed homes. Many of these woody plant materials likely contained termites before they were collected as construction materials. However, researchers have not yet found direct evidence of ancient termite infestations within the woody plant materials contained within ancient prehistoric homes unearthed in Arizona, but a termite presence within ancient firewood seems certain.

Do you believe that termites have been viewed as pests for as long as humans have been using wood to build homes?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

A Mysterious Chemical Component Of Brown Recluse Venom Promotes The Development Of Tissue Necrosis Following A Bite

A Mysterious Chemical Component Of Brown Recluse Venom Promotes The Development Of Tissue Necrosis Following A Bite

Brown recluse spiders have become well known as the house spiders with a “deadly” bite. While brown recluse spiders may be a little larger and a bit hairier than your typical house spiders, they have traditionally been dismissed as mostly harmless to humans. Of course, when brown recluse spiders feel threatened, or when they are handled, they will not hesitate to deal out one of their notoriously painful bites. As it turns out, the result of a brown recluse bite can be much more serious than a sting. Researchers at the University of Arizona have recently found that brown recluse venom produces a different and far more harmful chemical within the human body than was previously assumed. This chemical is responsible for causing the tissue necrosis that sometimes develops around the bite wound.

For years researchers assumed that brown recluse bites were not much more harmful than any other spider bite, despite the necrotic infections that sometimes form at the site of the bite wounds. Now, researchers have a better understanding as to why these necrotic infections take form. One of the many toxic proteins contained within brown recluse venom causes lipids to alter their function in a particular manner that results in cell-death. While the properties of these lipids and how they lead to necrosis is not exactly understood, it is believed that a pronounced immune response occurs, which results in blood being cut off from the site of the bite wound. This loss of blood flow to the bite wound results in the death of skin cells, which is what causes the well known necrotic black lesion that sometimes appears at the site of brown recluse wounds. In rare cases, a systemic infection can result from a brown recluse bite, which can lead to kidney failure and death. Luckily, the discovery of this new protein will allow researchers to develop more effective medical treatments for brown recluse bites.

Have you ever known anyone who sustained tissue necrosis from a brown recluse bite, or any spider bite?