Mumbai: At a time of widespread complaints regarding misuse of social media by people, here is a heartening story of how social media served a useful purpose in advancing scientific knowledge about a unique species of spiders. Thanks to the sharp observation of a user on Facebook, one of the largest social media platforms in the country, an endemic South-Asian species of jumping spider, Hyllus semicupreus has been discovered to feed on insect eggs for the first time ever.
This behaviour is a new discovery for the species and has been reported by a team of researchers based in Mumbai, based on the inputs provided by a wildlife photographer based in Andhra Pradesh. This discovery is significant as it can help in furthering biological means of pest control.
The discovery is published in the latest issue of ‘Peckhamia’, a globally renowned, peer-acclaimed international scientific journal dedicated to the study of jumping spiders. The study was conducted in collaborated with Dr. David E. Hill, a world authority on jumping spiders and Dr. Richard J. Pearce, a leading British spider expert. It was led by principal author and lead researcher Javed Ahmed, along with co-researchers Rajashree Khalap and Dr. Krishna Mohan, who is a naturalist and surgeon based in Moodabidri. The discovery was reported by wildlife photographer AN Suresh Kumar, who first recorded this behaviour and shared his observations with the team.
Hyllus semicupreus is a large, colourful bronze coloured jumping spider. It was previously recorded for the first time from Mumbai in 2015 and has also been photographed across Maharashtra, especially in the Raigad district. The spider can be easily identified from photographs and is known to feed on small insects and such.
Recently, and for the first time, wildlife photographer and amateur naturalist AN Suresh Kumar came across the spider feeding on leaf-footed bug eggs (family Coreidae) on his farmland in Andhra Pradesh. Not knowing he had captured a new behaviour, he shared these photographs on the “Spiders of the Indian Subcontinent”, a specialist Facebook group which is focused on the documentation, identification and study of Indian spiders.
These photographs were spotted by arachnologist and researcher, Javed Ahmed. Realizing the importance of this chance discovery, Ahmed encouraged the photographer to contribute his findings to science to facilitate a better understanding of spiders, which are severely understudied in India compared to other wildlife such as butterflies, birds and mammals.
‘Oophagy’ or preying on eggs is an interesting behaviour, which while reported in a number of jumping spiders, has never before been observed in Hyllus semicupreus, a relatively common jumping spider. This discovery is significant because leaf-footed bugs are severe agricultural pests and spiders such as Hyllus semicupreus can act as important pest-control agents.
Acknowledging the useful potential of social media, Javed Ahmed observes: “In this digital age of lightning fast internet connections and powerful pocket computers (smartphones), which are carried by almost everyone, there’s a lot of potential for social media platforms to act as a bridge between scientists and hobby photographers, to bring to light unique observations on the natural world, never seen before. An important thing to remember though is, these observations, if not reported on an academic platform, such as a peer-reviewed scientific journal, would be otherwise useless and lost forever.”