Teaching Students About Spiders

Spiders are arachnids and members of the arthropod group. This means they have two body segments (the cephalothorax and the abdomen), eight legs, no wings or antennae, and cannot chew. Insects, on the other hand, have just six legs, most of which have wings. Also, unlike humans, spiders have

Keep reading to learn the answer to the question, ‘What do spiders eat?’

Silky Spiders

Spiders have spinneret glands in their abdomen, which produce different types of silk, each used for another purpose. For example, sticky silk lets them catch prey. They can also use their silk to make themselves a safety line.

Spider silk is one of the most rigid materials in the natural world, and scientists have found that it’s even more potent than steel. The reason why it breaks easily is that it’s fragile, just 0.003 mm across.

Did you know

Not all spiders catch their prey in webs. Pirate spiders, for example, can make silk, but they do not make webs. Instead, they invade other spiders’ webs, plucking the web strings to lure the web’s owner closer. When the other spider is close enough, the pirate traps it between its front legs before biting it to inject venom.

Are There Different Types of Spiders?

Yes, there are an of different types of spiders! Spiders are the biggest group of arachnids, with a whopping more than 50,000 types of spiders found worldwide (and more species being discovered every year), so many smaller families of spiders have evolved in specific ways to fill particular niches in an ecosystem. While there are too many of them to list all of them here (at least, not without it getting very technical and dull), here are a few types of spiders that you may have seen at home or in books that embody the many ways that spiders have adapted to our planet’s challenges — see if you can spot any that are familiar!

  • House Spiders

We’re all probably very familiar with these little critters! These brown or tan spiders usually create messy cobwebs to catch prey, often in people’s homes and gardens. However, they’re generally only 6-7 mm wide, so unless you’re a fly, these little guys aren’t going to pose a threat.

  • Jumping Spiders

Like the name would imply, jumping spiders have their name because they jump when moving or pouncing on their prey. However, unlike many other spiders, they create webs that are more like burrows, which they use as a kind of like den that they can then leap out of onto unsuspecting bugs that pass by. They have fantastic eyesight, too!

  • Black Widow Spiders

Black widows aren’t that common but famous for their dangerous bite. Black widow spiders are black and shiny, with a telltale red hourglass shape on the underside of their abdomen. Unfortunately, they sometimes end up in artificial structures when looking for somewhere dry and dark to spin their webs. However, while highly unpleasant, their bites are rarely fatal as long as proper medical treatment is sought out.

  • Wolf Spiders

Wolf spiders are a particularly odd group of arachnids — unlike most spiders, they don’t hunt with webs! Instead, they chase down their prey using their fast-running ability. They’re large and hairy so they may look scary, but their bites aren’t more dangerous than a bee-sting.

  • Daddy-Long-Legs / Cellar Spiders

Named for their frankly enormous legs or their fondness for cool, dark spaces such as cellars, daddy-long-legs’ are not something one enjoys finding in a bathtub, given that they’re huge and tend to flail about. However, they’re a real asset to have in your home!

These are just a few common spiders, but there are many more out there, and they’re all fascinating!

What Do Spiders Eat?

The specific diet of spiders depends on their species. However, it is fair to say that most spiders consume insects and other spiders. In addition, spiders have special jaws called chelicerae, which include fang-like appendages at the tip specially designed to help them catch and consume their prey. Moreover, some species of spiders even have modified mouthparts that are designed to help them trap and crush their game.

Spiders are not super picky regarding food; their diet is pretty vast. However, they will only eat their prey if it is either alive or recently killed. Spiders who build webs tend to consume insects like flies, mosquitoes, moths, and butterflies. On the other hand, hunting spiders typically lie in hidden areas waiting to attack their prey as soon as it gets close enough. Different types of spiders are fast enough to chase their game. These super speedy spiders tend to munch on insects like crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles.

While most of their diet comprises insects and bugs, spiders sometimes eat other things. For example, a few species of spiders consume plant materials in their diets. For instance, in the group of jumping spiders, one particular species gets 90% of its nutrients from the Acacia tree leaves, which can be found primarily in Central America. Moreover, a water spider builds its web underwater and uses it to catch certain types of fish.

Do some spiders eat their webs?

While they don’t rely on it for nutritional value, some spiders eat their webs. For example, a select number of orb-web-spinner spiders have been known to recycle the amino acids that make up the silk proteins in their nets by consuming the silk as they take down their damaged webs. Other species of spiders are much more wasteful and discard their traps after they have become damaged or compromised. The standard American spider, however, actually uses its damaged webs to wrap its egg sac.

How many insects do spiders eat?

So, we’ve answered the question ‘what do spiders eat?’ but now comes a vital follow-up question, ‘how much do they eat?’

Despite their size, spiders eat a considerable number of insects. For example, one spider can eat hundreds of tiny flies in just one day. Prey that can be consumed is typically wrapped up in silk, staying attached to the web for those spiders that build them.

How do spiders catch their prey?

Now comes the issue of how spiders catch their prey before eating it. The method of catching prey is different for the various species of spiders. For example, crab spiders hunt spiders, waiting for their game, and pounce on it when it gets near enough. These spiders are often found on flowers in the garden with their long legs stretched out in front of them, waiting to catch any insects that land on the plant. On the other hand, wolf spiders, who are part of the Lycosidae spider family, have a very different method of catching their prey. These spiders can be seen running fast through vegetation in large groups, chasing down their prey. Other again are the black-and-white striped jumping spiders. As the name would suggest, these spiders stalk and then pounce on their prey when they are within jumping distance. The woodlouse spider also has a different method of hunting. This type of spider is nocturnal and has a distinctively reddish-brown body and legs, a pale abdomen, and powerful fangs for hunting. They tend to stalk and hunt down woodlice under stones and flowerpots.

Will spiders eat all types of insects?

So when answering the question ‘what do spiders eat?’, we discovered that spiders eat insects, but do they eat all types of insects? But, no.

Spiders aren’t particularly fussy about insects but will try to avoid unpalatable ones. These include insects like Burnet and Cinnabar moths, who tend to lie in spider webs just to be thrown out by the host.

What do spiders eat: do spiders eat each other?

When we think of spiders’ diets, cannibalism isn’t typically the first thing to come to mind, but many spiders will gladly consume one another. Some spiders even eat other spiders within their species group!

Perhaps the most famous example of cannibalism amongst spiders involves the mating ritual of the nursery web spider. When male nursery web spiders are courting a female, they must present them with a silk-wrapped fly. If they fail to do so, the female will not only reject them but, in some cases, eat them. Female nursery web spiders don’t often attack their male suitors, but when they do, the male is powerless to stop them.

Spider Habitats

With more than 45,000 species worldwide found on every continent except Antarctica, spider habitats are incredibly diverse. Spider habitats and spiders themselves can be hard to spot as they tend to blend into their surroundings. Some spiders float on the water, such as fishing spiders, spiders that live under the water, such as diving bell spiders, and even spiders that live as parasites on the webs of other spiders. The only places you won’t find spiders are in polar regions, at the top of the highest mountains and oceans.

From deserts to rainforests to your back garden, spiders live in almost every habitat on earth. Some spiders have even evolved to live in arid climates, where they don’t need to be around any water source. Instead, they get water from the food they eat. Regardless of where they live, all spiders have three basic needs: food, water, and shelter. The greatest threat to spiders is habitat loss.

This shows how versatile spiders are and how they can do well in many habitat types. However, they will find shelter if the weather gets cooler. If a spider’s body temperature changes too much, it will die. This is why you’ll find many of them indoors at certain times of the year.

Some spider species are found in many places. But how do they get there? Young spiders, or even small adults for certain species, put out silk threads caught by the wind. This is called ballooning; while many spiders land nearby, some travel long distances across land or sea.

Spotlight on diving bell spider habitats

  • Diving bell spiders spend most of their lives underwater in ponds, marshes, slow-moving streams, and swamps.
  • They use plants to build a dome-shaped web, which they then fill with air from the surface.
  • They grab air from the water’s surface using fine hairs on their abdomen before carrying it down and releasing it into the web — their diving bell.
  • Because the diving bell absorbs oxygen from the water, spiders only need to travel to the surface to top up their oxygen once a day.

Why should we conserve spider habitats?

Most ecologists discuss saving different types of wildlife from the animal’s perspective. However, spiders can help humans out in lots of ways too:

  • Spiders are insect killers, which gives them a significant ecological and agricultural role. Therefore, conserving spider habitats saves
  • Spider silk and venom are often used in medical research, such as stroke treatment.
  • Spider silk is also essential in fiber technology research.

10 Amazing Facts About Spiders

See how many of these ten amazing facts about spiders your children can remember!

  1. The Goliath Tarantula is the enormous spider in the world and can catch birds (see the video below to find out more).
  2. Most spiders can build a web in an hour and create a new one daily.
  3. The leg span of a Giant Huntsman spider is about 30 cm.
  4. Jumping spiders can jump 50 times their length when hunting or escaping predators.
  5. Females can lay up to 3000 eggs. They store them in a silk sac, either in a web or on their back, like a wolf spider. When baby wolf spiders (spiderlings) hatch, they sit on their mother’s back.
  6. Being afraid of spiders is called arachnophobia. It’s a common fear, but nobody in the UK has ever died from being bitten by a spider.
  7. The tiniest spider in the world was found in Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean in 1959. It is called the Patu marplesi.
  8. There are different types of spider webs, including orbs, funnels, and sheets.
  9. Humans, on average, are 250,000 times heavier than a spider.
  10. Spiders have eight eyes, but most can’t see very well! So they rely on their other senses to recognize when their web has caught their prey.
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