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Discovering a love for spiders


Raia-based Rupali Pandit did not realise how her life would turn around with her MSc Zoology final year dissertation on Spiders (Order Araneae) found at the Taleigao plateau; not only did she score highest in her project and has achieved a Gold Medal at Goa University (2016-17), but she has also gained a lifelong fascination with spiders’ role in the environment. Rupali’s interest was encouraged further when her dissertation was published in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Public Health, Fortune Journal in October 2017.

Rupali had to choose a biodiversity topic for the MSc dissertation and according to the guidelines, the students could study creatures like ants, butterflies. “When I discussed my research proposal on spiders with biodiversity professor at Goa University, I K Pai, he encouraged me. And when I took it up I was sure that I’ll find at least 50 species at Taleigao.”

When Rupali set out on her research, she was apprehensive about getting the identification right, on the contrary, once she got her hands into field work, she found it was much simpler than she presumed. “With eight months of dedication, I found 74 species belonging to 44 genera distributed over 17 families. Nearly 88 per cent of all the species recorded through this work are new additions to the checklist of the state over the earlier report.” Salticids, commonly known as jumping spiders were the most dominant and diverse group in the study, yet it happens to be one of the least studied families in India.

Rupali found most of the spiders during monsoons. The spiders were found in such high numbers, that she was asked to collect specimen for educational researches and references. With her main aim always remaining conservation, she would collect specimen only when she couldn’t photograph the spiders; she would collect them in air hole containers only to photograph then and then release them back to the place where it was found. “If it was a new species, I had to preserve it in a solution. If I found the same spider again, I would let it go in its habitat,” she says.

Besides, using common methods to collect spiders like hand-picking and using forceps, she used lid and container method where container would be placed on the spider, especially on wall, and once it got into the container, the lid would be closed. Another interesting method she used was pitfall traps where container was placed around a centimeter below the ground level in such a way that its mouth was on the ground level. Spiders require a lot of water hence she used water and jaggery and laid bait traps. Spiders usually feed on small insects and small decomposed mammals; unable to eat they can only suck the liquid out of the body. Hence they get attracted to the jaggery water.

Rupali points out that pioneering work in studying spider was done in 1998-2000 where 16 species were reported for a BSc dissertation; however it was not really published. Later, in 2008 D B Bastawade and Manoj Borkar began working on the spiders of Goa. They published their research in the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) Journal that turned out to be the first documentation. They reported 39 species contained in 28 genera from 10 families in Goa.

“Taleigao plateau offers different habitats. I was surprised with the number of species I found within eight months. There are people trying to survey spiders in Goa; however they need to do in-depth research. Whenever I got time during my project, I would note down their behaviours, actions, and features, which can be detailed further,” says Rupali.

Rupali’s mentor, professor Pai further shaped her idea, “He would always instruct us to give our cent percent in whatever we do. Most of the time, we tend to expect a particular outcome before the research gets over, however, he taught us to report sincerely whatever we observed, without manipulating it. I liked this about him because he taught us to accept positive and negative facts,” mentions Rupali.

Professor I K Pai says: “Rupali’s work is one of the pioneering works, establishing that there is a good diversity of spiders in Goa. Her work has already been published in an international journal.” He says that spiders thrive well in warm and humid climates, with diverse vegetation as is the case in most areas of our state. Hence, it needs to be conserved.

Most of us think that spiders are dangerous, but this has been challenged by Rupali. There are some spiders that are venomous, however most species found in Goa are non-venomous. Rupali says that they usually don’t attack humans because they can only suck liquid, and they prefer getting their nutrition from things like insects.

Currently, Rupali is pursuing a post graduation diploma in Environmental Law and Policy offered by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in collaboration with National Law University. She wants to infuse her knowledge of zoology to conserve the environment and justify the reason for conserving. “Spiders are one of the most important components of global biodiversity. They are good indicators of environmental health. The lesser number of spiders means more pollution, which means Goa is still in a better zone. However, we must now start to preserve it in whatsoever ways we can,” asserts Rupali.

Rupali now aims to research on the Spiders of Western Ghats. Moreover, Lambert Academic Publishing, (academic book publishing company that specialises in making the theses, dissertations, and research projects available worldwide) has selected Rupali’s dissertation for publishing it in the book form which will then be available online.

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