A combined effort of scientists in the UK and Kenya has discovered that smelly socks could help combat malaria. It is all down to Evarcha culicivora, an East African jumping spider which is the only known predator of blood carrying mosquitoes. As these mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of malaria, scientists were looking to find ways to encourage the spiders to live in people’s homes as an innovative way to reduce the spread of the disease.
Mosquitoes are attracted to human odours, and it would appear that the jumping spider has evolved an association between human odours and finding its prey. Tests were conducted with spiders held in plastic containers while air was pumped in containing either the smell of a freshly washed sock, or a sock that had been worn. The spiders were able to leave the containers to a ‘smell free’ area, but the spiders exposed to the aroma of worn sock remained in the containers for longer.
The task for scientists now is to work out a way to attract the spiders into homes without also attracting an increased number of mosquitoes. Nevertheless, let’s hear it for Evarcha culicivora – the newest weapon in the battle against malaria.