Posted by: cochinblogger | August 26, 2011

Of Spiders, Mosquitoes, and Smelly Socks

There are many spiders in my office (the above is a representative specimen), but judging from the size of the resident mosquito population, they do not prey on mosquitoes. I’d thought all spiders — like frogs — relished mosquitoes. Wrong! Read this:

Mosquito-Eating Spider Likes Smelly Socks

Got an eyeful of that? Good! However, I have some serious reservations about the conclusion of this study, namely, that the mosquito-eating spider finds the human odor attractive. Sorry, but it doesn’t fly.

Let me explain.

Ponder this excerpt:

They were interested in this species because it is the only known predator that specifically preys on blood-carrying mosquitoes.

“We had a suspicion that human odour was attractive to the spiders before we even ran the experiment,” Ms Cross told BBC News. “We generally find these spiders in the tall grass next to houses or other buildings occupied by people.”

To test this suspicion, the team devised an aroma-based experimental set-up called an olfactometer.

They put each “test spider” into a small holding chamber into which air was pumped, either from a box containing a clean sock or one containing a worn (and therefore smelly) sock.

Each spider was able leave its holding chamber at any time and escape into an exit chamber, which did not have sock-scented air pumped into it.

The spiders supplied with the aroma of worn socks always remained in the holding chamber for longer than those exposed to the freshly washed sock.

Ms Cross said it was “unprecedented that a spider should find human odour attractive”.

Now, I find Ms Cross’s logic untenable. One, the spiders may not “find human odor attractive.” The hapless creatures may be simply overcome by the foul, toxic odor of the socks and be unable to flee: in a word, they may be paralyzed, or close to it. Two, the human odor is considerably different from the odor of smelly socks. Liking the odor of smelly socks and liking the human odor are two entirely different things. The two odors cannot be confused by anyone who has — ahem, how should I put it delicately? Will “spent quality time in close proximity with other humans” do as a euphemism? Unless, of course, the person in question has a smelly socks fetish, in which case any odor would be measured against the smelly socks ideal.

I invite readers to scrutinize my logic. Isn’t the study conclusion a wishful anthropomorphic delusion, that we’re such a wholesome, lovable species that even spiders like the human odor as much as we do?

Still, let us not be consumed by negativity: it must be conceded that “sock-scented air” is a wonderful turn of phrase.

And better mosquito-eating spiders than man-eating ones, I suppose. 🙂


  1. Lovely post! Made me laugh out loud!

    • My serious scientific criticism evoked belly-splitting laughs?? OK. Thanks for sharing.

      Better than brickbats, I’ll allow. 🙂

  2. As you somewhat awkwardly pointed out: humans have a vast array of different, and often pungent aromas, that they naturally produce. Although it may not be the most prominent to your sense of smell, foot odor is definitely one of them. Experiments are already under way in Africa that have show stinky socks to be as effective at attracting mosquitoes as the best chemical bait. The reason for this is not because mosquitoes like the smell of foot odor, but because it’s one of the most pervasive smells given off by the human body. The smell of ripe old gym socks, apparently, travels quite a distance. and so mosquitoes have learned to hone in on this to find their intended victims.
    Knowing that this aroma is very effective at attracting mosquitoes, and that the smell of dirty feet can be detected for some distance it makes all the sense in the world that these spiders would use this smell to find the area most likely to be teaming with delicious mosquitoes. It’s not that the spiders are foot fetishists or relish the smell of old locker rooms, they’ve simply found the easiest way to get to where the food is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: