Spider research yet to pick up pace in India, say experts

Less encouragement to study the nitty-gritty and poor awareness are hurdles; last major research conducted between 1990s, 2000s

April 01, 2019 12:13 am | Updated 08:32 am IST - Mumbai

The recent discovery of a new species of jumping spiders in Aarey Colony has had arachnologists — specialists in spiders and related animals — and wildlife experts call for a greater focus on studying spiders in India.

While the last major research was conducted between the 1990s and 2000s by Dr. Manju Siliwal, a senior arachnologist who specialises in mygalomorphs, experts believe a lot of diversities of spiders are yet to be discovered in the country.

In a study published on Saturday by Russian peer-reviewed journal Arthropoda Selecta , a team-led by arachnologists Rajesh Sanap, Dr. John Caleb and biologist Anuradha Joglekar announced that they had discovered a new species of jumping spiders in the city’s Aarey Milk Colony.

Named after additional principal chief conservator of forest, Sunil Limaye, Jerzego sunillimaye was found for the first time in 2016. In the research that spanned over the next three years, researchers were able to understand the natural history of this species and explore interesting aspects that were not documented before.

“We were able to explore different habitats such as grasslands, rocky and forested patches to find out the habitat these tiny spiders preferred. Several males and females of various life stages were observed throughout the years, specifically in the monsoon, when the females were observed guarding their egg sacs, while males were seen wandering under the rocks,” Mr. Sanap said.

While other species of jumping spiders such as the Langelurillus Onyx, Langelurillus Lacteus — both described in 2017 — and Piranthus decorus — recorded for the first time in 122 years in the area — have inhabited the Aarey Colony, more studies pertaining to their complete biology, habits and interactions with other species are yet to be carried out. While there are 4,800 species of spiders in the world, India alone accounts for 1,800 spider species.

While the research in other parts of the world such as Thailand, Germany, Canada and the United States has been steady, experts said it is yet to pick up pace in India. “Spiders are important creatures as they are pest-controllers. They are like the tigers of the microhabitat world. Pulling them out could cause ecological imbalance,” Mr. Sanap said.

According to Dr. John Caleb, a Chennai-based arachnologist, who has been researching spiders for the last 10 years, species of spiders other than wolf, crab, orb-weaver and ground spiders have not received enough attention in India.

New in town: Male (left) and female Jerzego sunillimaye.

New in town: Male (left) and female Jerzego sunillimaye.

“Fewer number of arachnologists in India is also a problem. While the research on spiders was catalysed by Dr. B.K. Tikader, considered the father of Indian arachnology, it has subsided over the years,” Dr. Caleb said.

Dr. Manju Siliwal, he said, started working on the ancient group of spiders called the mygalomorphs, and published an updated checklist of Indian spiders in 2005.

“Currently, there are not many researchers taking interest in spiders. This is primarily because of lesser encouragement to pursue spiders and study their nitty-gritty,” he said.

‘Taxonomic study tough’

Dhruv Prajati, another arachnologist from Ahmedabad, said understanding the taxonomy — the morphological features — is tough in India. “Without taxonomic studies, one cannot arrive at a proper conclusion till experts are consulted. Besides that, a lot of specimens collected in India are deposited in museums abroad. While describing new species, we have to draw comparisons with what has already been described, by seeing type specimens, which is hard. Most characters used in the 19th century have been revised and updated over the years and without specimens, identification of species being observed becomes difficult. Efforts to improve and enrich the collection of specimens of spiders in India has just begun,” Dr. Caleb said.

Considered dangerous

Mr. Sanap added the data sharing and awareness about spiders in the country was minimal. “People consider crawling beings as dangerous and some have phobias too. There are also certain baseless myths attached to spiders. One needs to understand that while studying any arthropod, animal or other being, one needs to respect their space,” he said.

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