• SFU News
  • News
  • SFU MPM & PhD graduate explores an unknown ‘spiderverse’


SFU MPM & PhD graduate explores an unknown ‘spiderverse’

October 03, 2023

They are among the tiniest creatures we fear, but when it comes to the spiders that we’re likely to meet, most are harmless and helpful—and intriguing to study, according to Andreas Fischer. The SFU researcher, who celebrates completing his graduate studies next week, noticed just how little we know about spiders during his undergraduate studies. 

 “The more I learned about spiders the more fascinated and motivated I became to add to our knowledge of these eight-legged creatures,” says Fischer, who over the years has grown a collection of more than 4,000 spiders in a basement lab at SFU, many of them, found in the hallways of campus. In addition, he has a small lab where he fields some of his favorite subjects, black widow spiders. 

Fischer graduates with a Master of Pest Management (MPM) as well as a PhD in biological sciences—a testament to the past few years of intense study. He studies how female false widow spiders (Steatoda grossa) communicate through taste and smell as they secrete and sense chemicals called pheromones in their environment. 

In addition to being a fascinating area of research, his work has real-world applications. How do we repel spiders from our homes and other areas where they are not welcome? Pesticides are one option, but these chemicals can also have harmful impacts on the environment, wildlife, pets and children. Fischer’s thesis focuses on exploring natural alternatives for managing spiders. 

He found that plant volatiles, or the chemicals plants naturally release to deter insects from eating them, effectively repelled false widow spiders but were not effective against other species of spiders. The more effective solution, he discovered, was to use ant chemical cues to make spiders flee, as ants prey on spiders. He found that European fire ant chemical deposits deterred the false widow spider species S. grossa, Western black widows, hobo spiders, Eratigena agrestis, and cross spiders, Araneus diadematus.  

Fischer credits the hands-on training in chemo-analytical techniques he received under the tutelage of SFU’s Gerhard and Regine Gries with helping him land an exciting new job as an assistant professor. “The broad integrated pest management studies and the resulting MPM degree set me apart during the interviews,” he adds. “I look forward to establishing my own research program as assistant professor at the University of Greifswald, Germany and teaching the next generation of students.” 

What advice does this ‘spiderman’ have for youth who are considering following in his footsteps?  

“Don't hesitate to embrace difficult research projects, if you don't give up, you'll win.” 

With more work to do and further questions to investigate Fischer says future research will continue to focus on identifying pheromones in various spider species to learn more about how they use chemicals to smell.

 He also theorizes that our fear of spiders may be spun from a lack of understanding of their nature—along with some added stereotypical hype around Halloween.

In reality, the tiny arachnids play “a mighty role in the ecosystem as both predator and prey,” he says. Spiders control insect populations, important for protecting crops and preventing disease spread, as well as being a food sources for birds and other animals. 

“Spiders, particularly those we have in B.C., are perfectly harmless to humans and if we overcome our discomfort, we can actually appreciate them.”