Using spiders as environmentally-friendly pest control - University of Portsmouth

Web-building groups of spiders can eat a devastating pest moth

Groups of spiders could be used as an environmentally-friendly way to protect crops against agricultural pests.

That's according to new research, led by the University of Portsmouth, which suggests that web-building groups of spiders can eat a devastating pest moth of commercially important crops like tomato and potato worldwide.

The tomato leafminer moth, Tuta absoluta, has developed resistance to chemical insecticides, which cause human and environmental damage, so different approaches, like using natural predators such as spiders, are needed to combat infestations.

The researchers explored the use of tropical tent web spiders, Cyrtophora citricola, as pest control, as these spiders form groups and are not cannibalistic, and they create large webs to capture prey.

In lab settings, different types of prey - the small tomato leafminer, flightless fruit flies (Drosophila hydei) and larger black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) - were introduced to colonies of spiders of varying body sizes. Researchers found that larger spiders built larger webs and generally caught more prey, and they easily caught and ate the tomato leafminer and fruit flies, while the larger black soldier flies were rarely caught.

Dr Lena Grinsted, Senior Lecturer in Zoology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, and lead author of the study, said: “Our findings suggest that tropical tent web spiders have the potential to be an effective biological control agent of flying insect pests, at least after growing to medium-sized juveniles. Because they have evolved the ability to live in groups, these spiders might be better suited for biological control than more aggressive, solitary spiders that are prone to cannibalism.

The study is published in the journal Insects, read it here,

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Posted On: 17/02/2023

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