While most folks wouldn't expect to see a spider on the menu, plenty of animals and insects are perfectly happy to catch a spider and chow down for an appetizing meal. Other spiders, parasitic wasps, birds, lizards, frogs and, yes, even some humans eat spiders as part of their regular diet.
Several species of spider will kill and eat other spiders as part of their mating habits, a behavior known as sexual cannibalism. According to a 2012 study published in Behavioral Ecology, female spiders of the redback and orb-web species may kill males following mating in order to increase chances of reproductive success. By killing and consuming the male spiders, females could be gaining extra nutrition and taking control over the paternity of their offspring.
Multiple species of wasps view spiders as prey, including several species of dirt dauber wasps, as well as Calymmochilus dispar and Gelis apterus, two species discovered in Portugal in 2013. These wasp species are parasitic, laying their eggs inside the spiders, which remain alive but paralyzed as the eggs hatch so the wasp larvae will have fresh food as they grow.
A large number of insectivorous birds feed on spiders, including blackbirds, bluebirds, sparrows, crows, wrens and a European cousin of the chickadee known as the blue tit. The blue tit feeds large numbers of spiders to its chicks before they're ready to leave the nest. According to Kathryn Arnold, an ornithologist at the University of Glasgow, this bird chooses spiders over other insect meals due to the larger amount of taurine found in spiders. Taurine is an amino acid that affects development, leading to increased intelligence, less anxiety and better eyesight. By feeding their chicks spiders, blue tit parents are ensuring that their offspring grow up to be brave and intelligent adult birds.
Amphibians and Reptiles
Lizards, frogs, and toads are among the animals that eat spiders, with young frogs and toads eating spiders as they grow into adults. There are hundreds of species of lizards, many of which are insectivorous and include spiders in their list of prey. Their diets help keep populations of spiders and insects under control; natural predation keeps spiders and pests from becoming too numerous and throwing the ecology of the lizards' habitat off balance.
Even humans sometimes view spiders as a delicious meal. In Skun, Cambodia, spiders are deep fried and sold as a common street food, and live spiders are mixed into rice wine to create a natural medicinal liquor. The spiders are regularly sold to tourists passing through Skun on their way through Cambodia to other regions.
- Behavioral Ecology; Sexual cannibalism and sperm competition in the golden orb-web spider Nephila plumipes (Araneoidea): female and male perspectives: Jutta M. Schneider a and Mark A. Elgar b
- ZooKeys; Hymenopteran parasitoids of the ant-eating spider Zodarion styliferum: tanislav Korenko 1, Stefan Schmidt, Martin Schwarz, Gary A.P. Gibson, Stano Pekár
- Brevard College; Dirt Dauber Wasps: Jennifer E. Frick
- Annenberg Learner: Going Buggy! Insect-eating Birds
- Discover Magazine: Eating Spiders Can Fix a Bird Brain
- Mississippi Department of Conservation: Lizards
- Mississippi Department of Conservation: Toads and Frogs
- CBS News: Cambodian Tasty Treat: Deep-Fried Spiders
Margot Freeman has been a writer since 2009. She currently works in social media within the tech industry, and has been volunteering with acclaimed Austin, Texas animal shelter Austin Pets Alive! since 2010. Freeman holds a Bachelor of science in audio and media technology.