What Insects Do Spiders Eat?

Spiders eat astronomical numbers of insects

Spiders feed on an estimated 400 to 800 million tons of insects and other pests annually; in comparison, all humans consume about 400 million tons in meat and fish

A new study reveals some stunning estimates about just how much the world’s spiders eat annually: between 400 and 800 million tons of insects, springtails, and other invertebrates. In the process, these eight-legged carnivores play an important role to keep countless insect pests, especially in forests and grassland areas, in check. This is according to the findings of Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland and Klaus Birkhofer of Lund University in Sweden and the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg in Germany, published in Springer’s journal The Science of Nature.

Using data from 65 previous studies, Nyffeler and Birkhofer first estimated how many spiders are currently to be found in seven biomes on the planet. Their conclusion: altogether there are about 25 million metric tons’ worth of them around. Most spiders are found in forests, grasslands and shrublands, followed by croplands, deserts, urban areas and tundra areas.

The researchers then used two simple models to calculate how much prey all the world’s spiders as a whole kill per year. In their first approach, they took into account how much most spiders generally need to eat to survive, as well as census data on the average spider biomass per square meter in the various biomes. The second approach was based on prey capture observations in the field, combined with estimates of spider numbers per square meter. According to their extrapolations, 400 to 800 million tons of prey are being killed by spiders each year.

For a sense of just how much this is, take the following into account: all humans together consume an estimated 400 million tons of meat and fish annually. Whales feed on 280 to 500 million tons of seafood, while the world’s total seabird population eats an estimated 70 million tons of fish and other seafood.

According to further calculations, spiders in forests and grasslands account for more than 95 percent of the annual prey kill of the global spider community. The figure reflects the fact that forests, grasslands and savannas are less frequently disturbed than for instance agricultural or urban areas, and therefore allow for greater spider biomass.

«These estimates emphasize the important role that spider predation plays in semi-natural and natural habitats, as many economically important pests and disease vectors breed in those forest and grassland biomes,» says lead author Martin Nyffeler.

According to the researchers, spiders are not only important predators, but are also valuable sources of prey. Between 8,000 and 10,000 other predators, parasitoids and parasites feed exclusively on spiders, while spiders at the same time form an important part of the diet of an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 bird species.

«We hope that these estimates and their significant magnitude raise public awareness and increase the level of appreciation for the important global role of spiders in terrestrial food webs,» adds Nyffeler.

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Materials provided by Springer. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Martin Nyffeler, Klaus Birkhofer. An estimated 400–800 million tons of prey are annually killed by the global spider community. The Science of Nature, 2017; 104 (3-4) DOI: 10.1007/s00114-017-1440-1

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Spiders Eat Up to 880 Million Tons of Insects Each Year

Each year, about 27 million tons of spiders consume somewhere between 440 million and 880 million tons of insects, new research finds.

Yeah, that’s a lot of bugs.

The new study, published in the journal The Science of Nature, finds that spiders’ food consumption rivals — or perhaps dwarfs — the 440 million tons (400 million metric tons) of meat and fish all the humans in world eat each year. Spider prey consumption is similar to the amount of food that all whale species (Cetacea) eat annually, which has been pegged at between 300 million and 550 million tons (280 million and 500 million metric tons), biologist Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland and ecologist Klaus Birkhofer of the Brandenburg University of Technology in Germany wrote in their paper.

«By contrast, the annual food consumption of all the world’s seabirds is estimated at 70 million tons,» the researchers wrote. [Creepy, Crawly, Incredible: Photos of Spiders]

Hungry hunters

Spiders are a very successful group of arthropods. They’re found everywhere from deserts to grasslands to forests to Arctic tundra. More than 45,000 individual species have been identified so far, Nyffeler and Birkhofer wrote. Scientists estimate that there are around 131 spiders per every square meter of land on the globe, and in some places up to 1,000 individuals in that area (about the size of a single mattress).

With a few rare exceptions, spiders are carnivores, but it’s hard to directly measure their impact on their prey because spiders often hunt at night or in nooks and crannies that are difficult to observe, the researchers wrote. To estimate how much spiders eat, then, the researchers had to start by figuring out how much spider tonnage is out there.

A jumping spider (Phidippus mystaceus) feeds a tree-dwelling moth caterpillar. (Image credit: David E. Hill/Peckham Society, Simpsonville, South Carolina)

To estimate spider biomass (essentially, the weight of all the spiders in the world), the researchers drew from published data on spider biomass from tropical forests, temperate forests, tropical grasslands, temperate grasslands and shrublands, agricultural land, deserts and Arctic tundra. They then used global land cover for each type of environment to estimate the total weight of spiders on the globe, arriving at 25 million metric tons (about 27 million U.S. tons).

Heavy eaters

To figure out how much food it takes to keep 27 million tons of spiders creeping and crawling, the researchers used two methods. In the first, they simply estimated the food needs of a spider per the spider’s mass. For most spiders, they pegged this at around 0.1 milligram of food per milligram of spider, or about 10 percent of a spider’s body weight, each day. For desert spiders, which live notoriously spartan lives, the researchers used estimates of between 0.01 and 0.04 milligrams of food per milligram of spider.

This method led to a range of between 507 million and 772 million U.S. tons (460 million and 700 million metric tons of prey a year).

The second method involved extrapolating from data taken from the field in which scientists actually counted the number of insects spiders ate. This method led to an estimate of between 435 million and 887 million U.S. tons (395 million and 805 million metric tons).

Insects and springtails (collembolans) make up about 90 percent of spiders’ prey, the researchers wrote. A few large species eat worms and small vertebrates, like birds or bats (or even snakes). Forest and grassland spiders are responsible for 95 percent of the prey kill each year, in part because these areas contain the most ground cover and in part because these habitats aren’t frequently disturbed. Spiders living in agricultural fields, for example, have to contend with human activities and pesticides. [Goliath Birdeater: Images of a Colossal Spider]

See also:  Why Do Spiders Bite When You Sleep?

It’s impossible to say how many individual insects it takes to get to some 800 million U.S. tons or how many spiders put together weigh 27 million tons, Nyffeler, a senior lecturer in biology, told Live Science. There is too much variation in the estimates, he said. For example, no one knows how many juvenile (and thus smaller) spiders there are per every larger adult. A British arachnologist did estimate in 1947 that there were approximately 2.2 trillion spiders in England and Wales alone, Nyffeler noted.

The only other group of arthropods that can compete with spiders, pound-for-pound, are ants, Nyeffeler and Birkhofer wrote, but ants are not overwhelmingly carnivorous like spiders are.

«These estimates emphasize the important role that spider predation plays in semi-natural and natural habitats, as many economically important pests and disease vectors breed in those forest and grassland biomes,» the researchers wrote. «We hope that these estimates and their significant magnitude raise public awareness and increase the level of appreciation for the important global role of spiders in terrestrial food webs.»

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What do Spiders Eat?

What do spiders eat? Most spiders are predators that feed on insects and even other spiders. Learn more about the spider diet.

A spider’s diet

Spiders belong to a group known as the Arachnids and are found in every region of the world except Antarctica. Spiders have eight legs and two body parts – the cephalothorax and abdomen. Spiders also have jaws called chelicerae that include fang-like appendages at the tip. Some species of spiders have modified mouthparts used for grasping or crushing their prey.

So, what do spiders eat to sustain themselves? Most people are fearful of being bitten by a spider, however, it’s important to note that humans are not a food source for spiders. With that said, let’s take a look at their preferred food choices.

The food source for spiders depends on the species. Most spiders are predators feeding on insects and even other spiders. It’s important to know that most spiders will only feed on live prey or prey that they have recently killed.

What’s on the menu?

Spiders are known to eat a variety of foods. Web-building spiders commonly consume flying insects such as flies, mosquitoes, moths and butterflies. Hunting spiders, as their name implies, lie in concealed areas and attack their prey as it comes near, while other spiders are fast enough to run down, capture and eat insects such as crickets, grasshoppers and beetles.

What do spiders eat other than bugs?

Although most types of spiders do not eat plant foods, there are a few species that will feed on materials derived from plant life. In the jumping spider group, there is one species that gets 90 percent of its nutrients from the leaves of the Acacia tree, found primarily in Central America. There is also a species of water spiders that constructs its web under water. The primary food of choice for this spider is fish.

Now that you know you’re not part of the food chain for spiders, that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate them invading your space. If spiders are a problem, call the pest management professionals at Terminix® for the best solution.

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  • Vanessa Motley says:

    waiter: hi what u like to eat
    spider: a bee
    waiter: with what
    spider: with silk on the sides
    waiter : coming right up
    spider: yum yum!!!!

  • octapusxft says:

    I am glad that we are nowhere near the size where they can be a threat to us.
    So we can just keep finding them fascinating and cute without fear

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