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Spider Spins Ant-Repellent Silk

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the who-gave-antdude-the-day-off? dept.

Australia 42

bazzalunatic writes "The common golden orb web spider wards off ants from attacking it on its web by spinning an ant repellent (pyrrolidine alkaloid) into its silk. It could be used to develop a new insect repellent for humans. 'This study is among the first to show animals incorporating a chemical defence as a response to the threat of predation,' says Professor Mark Elgar of the University of Melbourne."

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42 comments

First animal? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38173632)

Apparently the researcher has never heard of stink bugs, or skunks. As far as I can tell, they also have "a chemical defence as a response to the threat of predation."

Perhaps the researcher meant to refer specifically to spiders, or that the ant-repellant was the first example of chemical use to PREVENT predation, not respond to an individual threat.

Re:First animal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38173676)

Among the first, not the first. You didn't even need to RTFA, just the summary would do ;)

Re:First animal? (1)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173796)

Yes, we need a study that shows that skunks are skunky before we cast aspersions on this fine academic.

Re:First animal? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173876)

Animal != mammal. The summary is actually valid. Or would you classify spiders as plants or fungi (or bacteria or ancient bacteria in the 5 kingdom system)?.

Re:First animal? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173882)

And protista - always forgetting protista. Been a long time since I took basic biology.

Re:First animal? (2)

NickFortune (613926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38174742)

Animal != mammal. The summary is actually valid

The key point here is that while the set of all mammals is not equivalent to the set of all animals, it is a subset thereof. So any true statement of the form "there exists a mammal such that X" remains true if you substitute "animal" for "mammal"

Also, you'd have to consider that Animal != Arachnid. Which means that even if we accept your logic, the summary still isn't valid, since the researcher's spider would be no more valid than the GP's skunk.

Fun stuff, logic :)

Re:First animal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38174152)

Ok, I'll come in again. *Amongst* the first examples of chemical use are such diverse elements as...

Re:AMONG THE FIRST POST! (1)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192694)

Mine was among the first posts. Also, I am among the smartest individuals on the planet, and I am one of the only people who can write and compile a C program. In fact, my penis is among the largest, both in length and diameter, while still maintaining a comfortable size. My salary is among the top of any employee, ever, in the history of anything.

In short, I am among the top most amazing, handsome, perfect, richest people that ever walked the earth.

In other words, I'm in the first 100% of every statistical measure. "Among the first" does not give any meaning or context, and I am opposed to its usage without any qualifier.

Re:First animal? (2)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173872)

Perhaps the researcher meant to refer specifically to spiders

I agree - I was going to post pretty much the same thing. Chemical warfare is evident throughout biology from bacteria and yeasts all the way up through cephalopods to mammals like the skunk. Perhaps said researcher mis-spoke, or was referring to his particular field. Either way it proves that a specialist is a person who knows a great deal about very little.

Re:First animal? (3, Insightful)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173930)

Perhaps he's meaning this is one of the few cases of pro-active protection. Skunks, stink bugs, squids etc... use chemicals to defend themselves as a fire off at the last second defense, rather then a lace your home with it type of protection.

Re:First animal? (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202098)

Oddly I read the summary as it being one of the first studies, more so than the first animal. I assume that not much study into the stinkbug or skunk was done because the reason for the repellent was clear. Is it possible that the spider's method is oderless to humans, thus making this interesting.

A group of ants is called a ward? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38173656)

"wards of ants"

Top editing.

Wards off? (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173682)

Maybe? Who edits this stuff?

Re:Wards off? (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173712)

Send comments and requests to timothy [mailto] . Commenting on slashdot will fall on blind eyes.

fifth! (1)

cheeks5965 (1682996) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173690)

fifth, bizznitches!

WHEN IT SPINS A GRAPHENE CIRCUIT LET US KNOW !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38173708)

Until then, this does NOT BELONG HERE !!

Females (5, Funny)

JohnConnor (587121) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173764)

Old news... Cobwebs at my place have been repelling all kinds of females for a long time, not just my aunts.

Re:Females (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38174376)

Interestingly enough, I have observed that the opposite is also the case. The presence of females appears to be repelling cobwebs !

what about an additive (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173772)

to add to your washing machine's last rinse cycle so every time you wash your clothes they get a fresh dose of insect repellent

Re:what about an additive (1)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173804)

It might have trouble competing with your boy's natural hot chick repellant.

Spiderwebs and ants...? (2)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173790)

Is that spider a picky eater? Spiders will eat ants; I used to drop big black ants into spider webs as a child to watch the mayhem. Ants panic when they find themselves in the middle of a spider web, it's almost instinctual that they are in serious trouble. The spider wakes up and is like "WTF?" and will dart out and put some serious bites to it.

I don't know about fire ants though, they might be hard to eat, or they might be prime rib for spiders. Just as long as they get the first bite in on them, it's all good.

I think there is more to being "ant repellent" than a chemical, right?

Re:Spiderwebs and ants...? (4, Informative)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173892)

A spider will eat one ant. It has trouble coping with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of ants at a time, however. I think the defense mechanism is to avoid the spider getting ambushed by a roving ant army, but any lone ants can be dealt with with the usual efficiency.

Re:Spiderwebs and ants...? (1)

lexsird (1208192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38174160)

Ants zerging you in vast numbers are hard for any Earth life form to deal with, let alone a single spider setting in his web pondering WTF is with these Ants? A bunch of them will drag dead spiders back to the nest. We would destroy a large spider in the house and toss it out the front door on the sidewalk and ants would make off with it.

I have seen some big spiders in my days. One came walking into the kitchen one day in a country rental I was living in. Our dog walked up to it curious, it ran off like a shot. If my wife had seen it, she would have ran off like a shot the other direction. I wasn't worried about it, the dog had it intimidated. I think I could take it. It was every bit the size of my hand spread out. The big ones like that aren't poisonous here, we have the Brown Recluse though that will do some serious biological damage to you.

That is a handy type of repellant, but will the Ants become immune to it after a while and hence wreck the Spiders? I would hope they do a chemical variant that is to a kilter enough in the composition that it warrants the spider's own webs to require these ants to evolve their own defenses against it.

Re:Spiderwebs and ants...? (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 2 years ago | (#38174850)

That is a handy type of repellant, but will the Ants become immune to it after a while and hence wreck the Spiders? I would hope they do a chemical variant that is to a kilter enough in the composition that it warrants the spider's own webs to require these ants to evolve their own defenses against it.

I don't know. I suppose a trait that makes ants stay away from spider webs is more likely to keep an ant alive than kill one. Maybe it's more likely that the ants who stray into spider webs will be killed off instead of the ones who avoid them.

Re:Spiderwebs and ants...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38175384)

It really depends on whether the ants respond to a chemical alarm more fiercely than they are repelled by the web. I don't think Dunbal is right. This isn't about being ambushed by an ant army. This is about kililng a single ant and bring that army down upon yourself.

Re:Spiderwebs and ants...? (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38175478)

a trait that makes ants stay away from spider webs is more likely to keep an ant alive than kill one.

Interesting - you're suggesting that this "repellent" might not be so much a chemical produced intentionally by the spider but rather that ants have somehow become sensitive to this chemical? That would mean that at some point in the past, the were a hell of a lot of these spiders around and their favorite meal was ant.

Re:Spiderwebs and ants...? (2, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38175458)

That is a handy type of repellant, but will the Ants become immune to it after a while

Why? That's the good thing about a repellent: it does not kill ants. So unless you have ants that can only survive by eating spiders, a repellent should not affect the evolution of the ants in any way. They will just move out of the way and find something else to scavenge. Now if you start guarding all their food-sources with this repellent and put evolutionary "pressure" (ie, overcoming this chemical puzzle means significant advantage and survival likelyhood compared to other ant colonies) you might see resistance. But otherwise, no.

Huh? (2)

jurgen (14843) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173802)

"'This study is among the first to show animals incorporating a chemical defence as a response to the threat of predation,' says Professor Mark Elgar of the University of Melbourne."

That sentence is absurd coming from a biologist... either it's a misquote, or this professor smoked some strong stuff... Biology is FULL of chemical defences as a response to the threat of predation, and chemical offences for that matter. They are common in the insect world, and practically universal in the plant and microbial worlds. In fact looking at Biology as a whole, the majority of what evolution does on a day-to-day basis is developing new chemical defences as a response to the threat of predation. Perhaps repellents are a little more unusual in the animal (as opposed to plant) world or less well studied, but hasn't he ever heard of i.e. skunks? By the time we narrow this sentence down to something that makes sense it's a big yawner: "This study is amongst the first to show animals incorporating a chemical repellent targeted at specific predators into secretions they use to build external structures (webs)." Hmmm.

Re:Huh? (1)

sunzoomspark (1960660) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173834)

Yawn, this story isn't even worth reading, at the least the summary is good warning. Totally agree with parent post.

Re:Huh? (2)

hldn (1085833) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173870)

Perhaps repellents are a little more unusual in the animal (as opposed to plant) world or less well studied, but hasn't he ever heard of i.e. skunks?

excellent misuse of i.e.

Re:Huh? (1)

jurgen (14843) | more than 2 years ago | (#38173966)

Indeed, that was a misuse of a Latin abbreviation, i.e. "i.e.". What I really wanted
was a way of abbreviating "for example", e.g. "e.g.". Thanks! I think I've learned it now.

Re:Huh? (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177968)

The Oatmeal [theoatmeal.com] to the rescue.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176016)

The really interesting part is that the chemical the spider secretes is also a really common chemical that humans synthesize to keep ants away. The really interesting point raised by this is that we've essentially stumbled on one of Nature's foolproof methods completely by accident.

but.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38173944)

I fart when i get excited. That's gotta count for some sorta 'chemical as a defense mechanism'

Wait I thought Lacewings did this (3, Interesting)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 2 years ago | (#38174414)

Admittedly I can't find it.(My GoogleFu is weak today.) I know they lay their eggs at the end of long threads to protect them. I thought I read somewhere that the threads have a chemical repellent to keep ants away (Since you'd think one tiny ant would just climb down and get it) but I can't find anything on Google confirming that.

Re:Wait I thought Lacewings did this (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38174640)

Yes: http://m.pnas.org/content/93/8/3280.short

Ants... I don't have a problem with (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38175744)

Let me know when they find a way to repel Ticks without harmful effects.

Re:Ants... I don't have a problem with (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177978)

Let me know when they find a way to repel Ticks without harmful effects.

I suggest the Chainsaw Vigilante. Or a billion zillion ninjas.

Formic Acid? (1)

doodaddy (92272) | more than 2 years ago | (#38175930)

'This study is among the first to show animals incorporating a chemical defence as a response to the threat of predation'

But the ants themselves have an acid defense [wikipedia.org] . Yay! An episode of Bear Grylls finally comes in handy!

Attacking its web site? (1)

HiggsBison (678319) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177134)

Am I the only overly-tired reader who glossed over that as:

"The common golden orb web spider wards off ants from attacking it on its web site..."?

Last time I had an ant trail... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38177584)

in my kitchen - i started killing them one by one and placing them right on the trail for the others to see - it stopped in approx. 3-5 hours -- they learned and recycled their comrades...

in my tomato plants - i tried various things incl. also killing them off. but they herded their aphids there, so I switched to providing them with a cooked sweet potato. this helped, they first took the sweets and moist from the potato and then the fabric.
I did never see them again.

To sum it up -- you do not need those chemicals in your household or garden, these creatures are intelligent and learn...

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