MUSCAT, MAY 15 – There are 31 species of black widow spiders in the world and the Arab region is known to have six of them. But a study says that a spider that died recently in a lab at Sultan Qaboos University’s Department of Crop Sciences at the College of Agricultural and Marine Sciences could be of a new species which has not yet been known to the world. A group of researchers are studying and recording their findings on more than 300 spiderlings growing in a bottle at the lab. The spiders can live in captivity for one year easily, said Ali al Raisi, College Superintendent (B) at the Department of Crop Sciences.
“Each black widow can produce about huge 14 egg sacks having around 200 to 300 eggs in each one. With four days to one week the eggs hatch and spiderlings can soon spread,” explained Al Raisi. According to the researcher, black widows are very common in Oman. So why is this species considered to be different? According to the DNA results this species has not been registered anywhere so far. “The DNA sequence is far away from whatever has been registered so far and that is why we think it is a new one”, Al Raisi said.
According to him, one of the students conducted the DNA extraction and DNA sequencing to compare it with other species and found the black with red pattern black widow did not have a matching DNA with any other known species. “All of us who are working on the project think this could be a new one. To prove it is a new species we have to record all the traits from eggs to the colours, the leg and body sizes etc. The journal that receives the report would have to send it for review before publishing,” said Al Raisi. Yet another discovery is the spotting of black widow species that has been recorded in Socotra and Yemen, but for the first time Latrodectus renivulvatus Dahl has been found in the Dhofar Governorate.
A species that is common all over Oman has been only found once in Salalah. An important finding could not have happened without help from the wildlife photographers Said al Shanfari and Mohammed al Shanfari who helped the team record the location of the first L. geomatricus, added Al Raisi. “The brown black widow which is Latrodectus geometricus has been recorded in Yemen and Socotra and has been published in Fauna of Arabia. In our last survey we found them in Rakhyout, Dalkhout, Taqah and other areas. Now the one which is most common in Oman we think could be a new species,” he added.
Dr Ali al Wahaibi, Assistant Professor in Entomology at Sultan Qaboos University, is conducting further studies. Others in the team are Ali al Subhi in addition to few staff members and students. “My first collection of black widow was in 1990 and it was from Ibri. A finding was recorded in 1800 in Muscat by the British soldiers. They are everywhere in Oman people just think they are not there but the black widows are there. You can find them in the mountain areas and wadis. We have seen the black spiders in Jabal Akhdar as well,” he said.
These spiders do not attack. They make their web and wait for their food. They have a way to attract the prey. But they do bite if they are troubled. “People think it is highly poisonous but not so. It does have an effect but the treatment is application of vinegar on the bitten area,” he added. Black widows are said to be extremely important to the environment. “They eat other insects and accordingly they maintain the balance in the environment. When we kill black widows we will begin to see other insects. So everything in the environment is important,” he added.