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Research on Spiders at Paliyan Wildlife Sanctuary

A group of young people from Yogyakarta conducting spider research activities in the Paliyan Wildlife Reserve area. The benefits and ecological functions of spider species for life have not been widely studied. (Source : KEHATI)

  • Date:
    25 Aug 2023
  • Author:

The benefits and ecological functions of spider species for humans and the environment have not been widely studied. Their presence has often been overlooked due to the common perception that they are scary creatures. However, these eight-legged animals play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem balance. Spiders are also threatened by ecosystem changes such as housing development or deforestation.


This fact has sparked the interest of a group of young individuals from Yogyakarta to research and study various spider variants. Known as Kalamangga, this group is conducting research on spiders in the Paliyan Wildlife Sanctuary in Gunung Kidul Regency. Their research is supported by Biodiversity Warrior (BW) KEHATI through the 2022 sponsorship program.


Kalamangga is an example of citizen science that involves volunteers as researchers. Vice Chairman of Kalamangga, M. Ikhsan Al Ghazi Naufal, said that Paliyan Wildlife Sanctuary was chosen because there has been no logging activity and there are still many non-endemic flora or primary forests. An ecosystem with non-native plants provides a favorable habitat for various species of spiders. The research findings have proven that many spider species eventually inhabit the area.


Spiders usually inhabit areas with many trees or damp places. The more tree variations there are, the more spider species can be found. “There are actually many research locations in Yogyakarta, as there are many green areas. Spiders are also commonly found in tourist spots. Our next research plan is in that area.


Research Challenges

One of the challenges encountered in conducting research is the researchers’ capacity to understand references that predominantly use English language. It can be difficult to study spiders when one is not fluent in English. Furthermore, their research tools are inadequate.


Determining the species of small spiders is a challenging task if only a stereo microscope is used. Although their size can be observed with the naked eye, identifying spider species is not solely based on their physiology. For some species, observations of the genitalia are necessary. This is because spider growth, from a young age to adulthood, results in changes in body shape.


“In fact, even within the same species, males and females sometimes differ in their shape and color. This is what makes it challenging for us. So, they still have to be brought to the laboratory,” said Ikhsan.


When collecting spider specimens, the Kalamangga enthusiast did not find it difficult. The challenge was more about finding the right time to gather due to everyone’s busy schedule. While conducting research at the Paliyan Wildlife Sanctuary, Kalamangga divided the study areas into ecosystems near the swamp, ecosystems in the secondary forest, and ecosystems in residential areas.


The spider habitat is quite extensive, and it can be assumed that around 1 or 2 kilometers around each transect, there are species of spiders. A transect is a route used to calculate and record the appearance of research objects.”


In each ecosystem, there are four individuals assigned to capturing photos and documenting different species. As a group of spider novices, their biggest challenge lies in determining whether a particular species needs to be collected or not, and whether it is an adult or a juvenile. This difficulty forces them to seek help from those who are more knowledgeable about spiders.


Studying spiders is easiest during the nighttime, when their eyes sparkle under the beam of a flashlight, making it easier to locate them in their environment. While some species are active during the day, there are others that are active during both day and night. For instance, jumping spiders, scientifically known as Salticidae, are fast movers and can leap during the day, whereas nocturnal spiders typically create webs to patiently await their prey.


Poisonous Spider

The Kalamangga activists discovered a species of venomous spider in the Paliyan Wildlife Sanctuary. When handling the spider, one should avoid touching the abdomen and refrain from directly using their hands to grab it. This is because when a spider is trapped in the abdomen area, it feels stressed and fearful.


After taking the spider, it is then placed in a urine bottle and stored in a 10 ml vial or a container suitable for its size. A bite from a venomous spider can lead to rotting of the human hand.


Venomous spiders are usually found in caves, so the chances of them attacking the residents are slim. Kalamangga received information from Yogyakarta conservationists that there are quite a few highly venomous Redback Spiders in the vicinity of the NYIA Kulon Progo airport.


However, spiders are not creatures that attack humans. So spiders will not bite unless they feel disturbed. Research on spiders for certain families, such as tarantulas, is very limited, and there is even none yet.


Spider enthusiasts are still few, and most of them only process data on spider species in certain areas. In Indonesia itself, the population of Teraposide is still rarely found. Only one specimen has been found in the Jatimulyo area of Kulonprogo Regency.


It is quite difficult to determine the extent of the arthropod’s exploration because each species has its own uniqueness. There are types that fly using webs following the direction of the wind. Almost all small spiders move in this way.


They use a type of web that is blown by the wind and will land in their respective zones. When they reach adulthood, some of them will build nests while others won’t. The spiders that build nests usually stay within a single ecosystem. These settled spiders will look for microhabitats that suit their specific ecosystems. Therefore, it is quite difficult to determine the range of movement for each individual. However, it can be assumed that each species covers about 1 to 2 kilometers.


According to Ikhsan, there is a spider species called Nephila Pilipes that can produce golden-colored silk, which can be used to create fabric. However, using spider webs for clothing would lead to exploitation and cause stress to this particular species.


Using spiders for human needs or the industrial sector is considered uneconomical. In the future, genetic engineering of fungi could be an option for the fashion industry. This technique would involve engineering fungi to produce threads similar to spider silk.


However, in Ikhsan’s view, spiders have the potential for tourism. For example, a museum could be created to showcase the species living in the area. It could also serve as an outlet for those interested in photography.


“Conservation of spiders should not be limited to the spiders themselves. We need to conserve the environment as well, as it is the most essential aspect of conservation. We hope that spiders can become a source of knowledge for all of us, and that more people will be willing to engage in the preservation of biodiversity, including spiders,” Ikhsan concludes.