Spiders are better than malaria-carrying mosquitos.

A spider that preys on the malaria-carrying mosquito Anopheles gambiae is attracted to the odor of sweaty socks, according to a study.

Scientists in the UK and Kenya used previously worn socks in an experiment to find out if the spider, like its prey, was attracted to human odours.

The jumping spider appears to have evolved an affinity for smelly human feet in order to help find its prey.

The team reports its findings in the journal Biology Letters…

They say that people might be able to “recruit” this East African jumping spider, Evarcha culicivora, in the battle against malaria by encouraging the arachnids to live in their homes.

Smelly experiment

Fiona Cross, from the University of Canterbury, and Robert Jackson, from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Kenya, carried out the study.

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.