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How ‘vampire’ spiders with a love of human blood could combat malaria – National

TORONTO — There’s a species of  jumping spider that lives on the walls of people’s homes and feeds on human blood. Researchers believe it could become a weapon in the fight against malaria.

The Evarcha culicivora is reportedly found around Lake Victoria in east Africa. And even though it’s also known as a “vampire” spider, you don’t have to worry about it sucking your blood.

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It lacks the mouth parts to pierce people’s skin. Instead, it targets the female (Anopheles) species of mosquito that not only eats human blood, but also transmits malaria parasites.

“This is unique. There’s no other animal that targets its prey based on what that prey has eaten,” said Fiona Cross, an arachnologist who co-authored a study on the spiders.

By eating the malaria-carrying mosquitoes, the spider apparently also makes itself more sexually attractive to prospective mates. Win-win.

Cross has urged people “to embrace the spiders” and “harness their potential in malaria control.” Her findings have been published in the Journal of Arachnology.

More than half a million lives are lost to malaria each year, according to the World Health Organization.

The disease, which is rare in Canada and the U.S., can be contracted in Africa, South and Central America, as well as parts of Asia. It can often be prevented by taking prescription pills.

Unfortunately, one study found that “only about 44 per cent” of travellers who became infected with malaria took a preventative mediation.