Compare this to the fact that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the worldwide human population consumes around 400 million tons of meat and fish every year. The spider’s eating habits can even be compared to those of the whales (Cetacea) in the world’s oceans, which eat an estimated 280-500 million tons of prey a year.
With more than 45,000 species and a population density of up to 1,000 individuals per square meter, spiders are one of the world’s most species-rich and widespread groups of predators. Due to their secretive lifestyle – many spiders are nocturnal or live well camouflaged in vegetation – it was previously difficult to demonstrate their ecological role, but zoologists at the University of Basel and Lund University (Sweden) have now used calculations to conclude that spiders indeed have an enormous ecological impact as natural enemies of insects.
Spiders kill vast numbers of insects
The researchers used two calculation methods based on different models, which consistently showed that the global spider population (with a weight of around 25 million tons) wipes out an estimated 400-800 million tons of prey every year. More than 90% of that prey is insects and springtails (Collembola). Furthermore, large tropical spiders occasionally prey on small vertebrates (frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, birds, and bats) or feed on plants. The large range of the global prey kill estimate is due to the fact that rates of prey kill can vary widely within specific ecosystems, and these variations must be taken into account for ecological projections.
And for my fellow arachnophiles, an album of 8-legged beauties: