Refugee Spiders Helping To Protect Pakistanis From Malaria

Here’s an odd and wonderful story.

Wired UK posted an article today about one of the stranger consequences of the major flooding that took place in Pakistan in 2010.  Evidently, there are submerged areas of the country where the threatened spider population took to the trees and spun draping canopies of webbing which completely cover them.  If you love great photography go take a look at the eerie, beautiful pictures included with the article.

But the most amazing part of the story is the report from Britain’s Department for International Development who is currently working there in Pakistan.  They say there are far fewer malaria carrying mosquitoes in the vicinity of these trees, in spite of the standing, stagnant water surrounding them.

The concentrated spider populations are helping to control the burgeoning mosquito population.  How’s that for a lovely side effect?  This strange partnership between trees and spiders is creating living, arboreal shields against disease for the people living nearby.

I love this; how tragedy can transform a creature we usually regard as a danger and/or a household pest into a profound gift of protection.   I’ll remember this the next time I pick up a shoe to crush one, and instead catch it in a jar and place it carefully outside…in honor of its little, eight-footed Pakistani brethren who are (however unintentionally) protecting my own devastated and suffering brethren across the world.

One small way of gratefully participating in the web of life.  (No pun intended.)

Photo UK Department for International Development

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

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8 responses

  1. Those poor “wrapped” Pakistani trees just creeped me out! One of the things I hated most about delivering mail was having to walk through spider webs to get to people’s mailboxes. It’s surprising how many times spiders design an entire freeway system from a tree on one side of the front walk to the tree on the other side of the front walk!

    Now, granted, I know I should honor spiders for the work they do. BUT…who’s honoring mosquitoes? What’s a mosquitoes contribution to this planet, anyway?

    • I know…when I lived in Iowa I was always wary walking forest trails early in the morning. First one through for the day always got a spider web face-wrap. Talk about freaked-out!!! That would have made for some funny Youtube videos.

      As for the mosquitoes…a noble question. Bravo. From a human perspective the answer is convoluted and initially unpalatable…but from the perspective of the earth, the evolutionary contribution of parasites as a whole is actually profound and ancient. (Parasites are why humans have sex. There’s at least one good thing for us.) If you’re REALLY interested read PARASITE REX by science writer Carl Zimmer. (But if the spider-wrapped tree photo gave you the willies I’m pretty sure this book would send you right over the edge.) 🙂

  2. Reminds me of how much you loved “Charlotte’s Web”- and how I wouldn’t read it because I found out she died in the end.
    Hmmm.

    • I thought that might intrigue you! There’s evidence that they may have been an early deciding factor between organisms reproducing asexually or sexually. Asexually doesn’t mix up the genetic materials enough to throw off the parasites that have evolved to a particular niche. They evolve at rates that are staggering. They’re adaptable way beyond coyote- and cockroach-adaptable. In fact, they’re probably the most efficient, successful, dominant life form on the planet, and science is only really just beginning to study them seriously. Up until about a decade ago they were considered too disreputable to study. (There’s that arrogant thread in science again. Aaaah!)

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