Researchers say that a chemical found on the golden orb web spider silk, has proven to be extremely effective at keeping invading ants at bay, and could one day make a very useful natural ant control agent.
Golden orb web spiders are a common species of spider, discovered all around the world, especially in tropical regions. In most cases, these spiders (and the insects they catch in their web) are seen as potential prey for ants. Therefore, it was very surprising to researchers, that ant predators were never seen foraging for food, on the webs of Golden orb web spiders. The answer scientists believe, is a compound known as pyrrolidine alkaloid, and it appears to be a highly effective method of insect control; against invading ants.
Using bait to attract ants towards the spider’s silk, researchers conducted three different experiments. In one case, the natural silk was used, complete with the pyrrolidine alkaloid. In the second case, all of the chemical was removed from the silk. In the third case, purified pyrrolidine alkaloid that was purchased from a chemical supply store, and placed on the cleaned silk. In the two cases where pyrrolidine alkaloid was present, the ant invaders were unable to cross the spider’s web. When asked to describe the effects of the powerful chemical, experts said that “… it’s a bit like body odour on a cramped bus, on a hot day. It’s not going to kill you, but it’s certainly going to get you off the bus pretty quickly.”
Surprisingly though, pyrrolidine alkaloid it is not a byproduct of the spider’s silk production, but instead is produced by insects; to counter predation. Although it is not known exactly how the spiders produce the compound, experts say that it’s possible that the spiders obtain the compound, by eating insects that contain it. Nevertheless, it is hoped that researchers can reformulate the liquid chemical into a powder, that might be more useful in pest control treatments; against invasive ant species.