Usually found in temperate world regions, everyone knows that the bite of the black widow spider can be very deadly; and to underscore how terrible they are, the female black widow spider can kill and eat up a male partner after mating.
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But there is more to learn about this venomous spider than its fatal bite and eating habits.
Scientists are now convinced they can identify a black widow spider just by analyzing the genetic material it usually leaves on its spun web, and use this DNA information to track it and analyze its relationship with pests it hunts and predators such as birds and lizards that also eat it.
Reporting their findings in the journal Plos One, researchers say DNA left on black widow spiders’ web can reveal a lot about what they eat last several weeks past. And the study can also be applied to monitoring endangered species of both spider and its preys.
The researchers were from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and they carried out their experiments with black widow spiders at the Potawatomi Zoo, also in Indiana. According to lead researcher Charles Xu who was able to extract the mitochondrial DNA of the spiders from their webs, he submitted that information about the spider and its prey can be obtained from DNA left on its web.
To this extent, scientists may not really need to capture spiders or its prey to study their DNA, a thorough analysis of its web will yield the required information about the spider and its prey.
"In the past, identification of spiders has relied on morphology, especially looking at the genitalia of spiders because they're very different between different species of spider," Xu explained.
"But there are a lot of errors associated with these kinds of methods and now with the advent of new genetic technologies we can more accurately identify these species,” he added. "The really cool part about our study is that we used non-invasive samples – so these web samples – where we don't even have to directly observe or capture these spiders to get their DNA."
Scientists think the DNA “fingerprints” of the black widow spider, and perhaps all spiders everywhere, might be good for tracking them for conservation reasons, and this might be useful to knowing the location of a poisonous spider or where it had lived before.
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The black widow spider is the most poisonous spider in North America, and the female is twice as large as the male. With its webs, it can lay a cocoon full of eggs and also use the same as trap to catch crickets, grasshoppers, flies, mosquitoes, caterpillars, and beetles among others.