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Guam’s spider population spikes after bird loss

September 18, 2012
The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) - The accidental introduction of a snake species to Guam several decades ago almost completely wiped out the Pacific island's forest birds. Now, the lack of birds is causing Guam's spider population to explode.

A new study shows that Guam's jungles have 40 times more spiders in the wet season than the jungles of the nearby islands of Rota, Saipan and Tinian, where birds are still around to eat spiders. During the dry season, Guam had more than twice as many spiders as the nearby islands.

Haldre Rogers, lead author of the study published this month online in the journal PLOS ONE, and fellow researchers measured sections of jungle about 65 to 100 feet long and counted the number of spiderwebs with spiders in these areas.

Webs woven by one species - argiope appensa or garden spider - were also 50 percent larger on Guam, the study found. This suggests that the garden spider is able to keep its webs up longer or build larger webs when birds aren't around, Rogers said.

Guam's forest birds were almost completely eliminated by the brown tree snake, a reptile native to Australia and the Solomon Islands that doesn't have any natural predators on the island.

Hawaii officials have long been concerned the snakes might sneak onto cargo leaving Guam and do the same thing to birds in the 50th state that they did to Guam's avian species.

Rogers doesn't want to people to get the mistaken impression that Guam is coated in spider webs. Spiders are abundant in the jungle, but people wouldn't notice them elsewhere any more than they would in other places.

So there's no need for those who fear spiders to stay away from the island popular with vacationers from Japan, South Korea and Asian nations.

"Arachnophobes should avoid the jungles of Guam. But they can still go and snorkel and dive and do their duty-free shopping like most of the tourists do," Rogers said.



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