4.1.1 Infrastructure facilities for teaching & learning
The Division of Arachnology was established in 1998 and has since emerged as an acclaimed center for research in taxonomy and bioecology of spiders. It functions under the Department of Zoology of Sacred Heart College. Over the years the division has grown to become synonymous with spider taxonomy in India. This is the only Arachnology research center in South India and the most well known among the very few in India. Identifying and cataloguing the spider diversity of South India especially that of the Western Ghats of Kerala has been the primary motive of the division since its inception. We have an impressive collection of spider specimens in our museum which serve as reference for spider enthusiasts across the country.
In an era which faces acute dwindling of genuine taxonomists, we have lit the path with authentic research on spiders, powered by meritorious researchers and cutting edge technology. The Division has developed modern facilities, multi pronged strategies and technological capabilities to achieve its objectives related to identification, cataloguing, creating a repository of available spider fauna and database management. We have been extending our knowledge and other resources to the spider loving community in various ways which include identifying specimens, helping with student projects, taking classes on spider diversity for nature lovers etc. Premier research institutes and communities all over the country have been beneficiaries of our services.
The division was led by the late Dr. P A Sebastian, who retired as Associate Professor from the Department of Zoology, Sacred Heart College. Many spider genera were reported for the first time from India and ample new species have been discovered through our persistent efforts on this front. The division has so far produced 9 PhD holders. Currently we have four research scholars actively involved in studies on various families of spiders. We are proud of having published many papers in referred national and international journals. Our mettle was repeatedly proved when international research arena beckoned our researchers to attain global research exposure through prestigious fellowships. Our scholars consistently present research papers in international and national congresses. Molecular taxonomy of spiders is slated to take off soon.
The following are the thrust areas of research:
- Diversity of spider fauna in Kerala State, India.
- Spiders as biocontrol agents
- Study of the feeding potential of spiders of paddy and vegetable agro-ecosystems and the effect of insecticides on spiders as part of integrated pest management.
- Behavioural study of jumping spiders of Kerala
- Maintenance of reference collection of Kerala spiders.
The Division conducts routine faunal explorations in different parts of Kerala state namely Agasthyamala, Thenmala, Vagamon, Thattekkad, Parambikulam, Wynad, Kuttanad, Munnar, Mannavan Shola and the entire Ernakulam district. The division has so for identified more than 300 spiders from Kerala including 40 new species to science and 30 first reports. Araneus himalayensis, a rare spider reported only in the Himalayas has been collected from Mannavan Shola, near Marayur. A recent exploration to Vagamon grasslands and nearby shola forests yielded a collection of 44 species of spiders.
The division is also actively engaged in the research of Indian Tarantulas (Tiger Spiders). Out of the four species of tiger spiders reported from India (Poecilotheria striata, P. rufilata, P. regalis and P. kirki.), P. striata and P. regalis were collected from Parambikulam Wild Life Sanctuary and Ernakulam, respectively. This is the first documentation of these spiders from Kerala since they were first reported in 1870’s by the British biologists. Similarly Haploclastus kayi has been collected from Parambikulam and Thenmala forests.
Our scholars have over and over been honored with international fellowships and grants.
Dr. Mathew M.J. was awarded the prestigious Endeavour Award of the Commonwealth of Australia and had successfully completed a postdoctoral programme in spider taxonomy and phylogeny in Australia as part of the award. His postdoctoral research was hosted jointly by the University of Western Australia and Western Australian Museum in Perth, Australia.
International Foundation of Science
Dr. Mathew M.J. was awarded a research grant from International Foundation for Science, Stockholm, Sweden for a research project on spiders in Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve. The research programme was successfully completed in August 2010.
EOL Rubenstein Fellowship 2010
Dr. Sudhikumar A. V. was awarded the much prestigious Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) Rubenstein Fellowship in 2010. The EOL Rubenstein Fellows program supports the research of a diverse group of scientists who are committed to online collaboration and outreach. It is done in collaboration with Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington D C. Dr. Sudhikumar is the first Indian to be chosen for this award. Proposal to create EOL species pages of Spiders of Western Ghats with taxonomic information, detailed description, range maps, type specimen information, and high quality images won him this meritorious fellowship.
Ghent University Fellowship
Dr. Sudhikumar A. V. was awarded doctoral fellowship by the Ghent University, Belgium in 2006 to conduct study on Phylogeography of the spider genus Hippasa.
Ph. D Awardees
Sunil Jose K.
Thesis: A faunistic survey of spiders (Araneae: Arachnida) in Kerala
Thesis: Studies on the taxonomy and bionomics of some predacious spiders on insect pests of Kuttanad rice agroecosystem, Kerala, India
Mathew M. J.
Thesis: Systematics and Bionomics of spiders in agricultural and forest ecosystems of central Kerala, India
Samson Davis Padayatty
Thesis: Systematic study on Salticidae (Arachnida: Araneae) from Kerala, India – with notes on habit and habitat of common forms
Lakshmi Devi Menon P.
Thesis: Investigation on the taxonomy of Chalcidoidea (Hymenoptera) associated with Rice ecosystem in Thrissur and Palakkad Districts of Kerala State.
Thesis: Systematics of spider in central Malabar, Kerala, India with special emphasis on mygalomorphs (Araneae: Orthognatha)
Jobi M. J.
Thesis: An Investigation on Taxonomy and Ecology of Spider Fauna of Pathiramanal Island in the Vembanadl, Ramsar site, Kerala, India – A conservational Approach.
Pradeep M. S.
Thesis: Taxonomy and bioecology of ground dwelling spiders (Arachnida: Araneae) in the Kerala region of Western Ghats.
Elizabeth V. Mathew
Thesis: Taxonomic revision of Indian genus of spider species Cyrtophora using morphological and molecular data.