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A new study has concluded that the world’s population of spiders is consuming more food annually than every single human being on the planet combined. The study also suggests that the voracious appetites of the world’s spiders are having a substantial and previously unappreciated impact on the ecosystem.
The study was undertaken by 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. Nyffeler and Birkhofer reviewed sixty-five previous studies on spider habits and concluded that there is an astonishing 25 million metric tons worth of spiders throughout the world. The majority of these spiders live in forests, grasslands, and shrub lands, with the remaining creatures being found in croplands, deserts, urban zones and the tundra. They then examined the prey capture observations made by various teams of spiders in the field, as well as a number of spiders per square meter in each of these biomes.
Amazingly, they concluded that spiders manage to eat through 400 and 800 million tons of insects and other pests on a yearly basis. To put that into perspective, it is estimated that human beings only manage to consume 400 million tons of meat and fish every year. Even the world’s whale population only ingests between 280 and 500 million tons of seafood annually, and seabirds only eat around 70 million tons.
The incredible appetite of the spiders is a likely contribution to the manageable levels of insects and other pests in the grassland and forest areas throughout the world, meaning that spiders are a huge asset for the world’s ecosystem. They are also a valuable source of prey for other animals, the researchers say. There are between 8000 and 10000 predators, parasites and parasitoids which feed exclusively on spiders and there are further 3000 to 5000 bird species that regularly eat spiders as part of their natural diet.
“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, ” said Nyffeler.