By Anthony Angelini
Researchers believe that an African spider may become a major weapon in the fight against malaria.
The spider (Evarcha culicivora), a species of jumping spider found in east Africa, preys on the female Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit malaria parasites.
The arachnids, which are also known as vampire spiders, feed on human blood to produce pheromones for mating.
But despite their rather fearsome nickname, they pose no threat to people as their fangs are too weak to pierce human skin. Instead, they get the blood by preying on mosquitoes that have recently fed on humans.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that malaria causes over half a million deaths annually, mostly among African children.
In 2013 alone, there were 198 million malaria cases in sub-Saharan Africa.
But between 2000 and 2013, death rates have in the continent fallen by 54% as a result of education initiatives, improvements in treatment and the use of nets.
Last month GlaxoSmithKline developed the world’s first malaria vaccine, which is predicted to produce at least a 30% reduction in malaria cases.
It is hoped that the use of natural mosquito predators like the vampire spider can help lower infection rates further.