They may be tiny, but they sure know how to pack away their food. In a single year, spiders consume more prey than humans do, a new study found.
The creepy crawlers kill and eat between 400 million and 800 million metric tons of prey annually, making them “one of the most important groups of natural enemies of insects,” according to a study published in The Science of Nature.
That’s more than the estimated 440 million tons of meat and fish humans eat each year. They even outdo whales, which devour somewhere between 300 and 550 million tons of seafood annually.
Spiders typically prey on insects and springtails, which make up more than 90 percent of their diet, but some varieties, like Australian redbacks, occasionally eat larger animals, like frogs, snakes, lizards, birds, and mammals.
The researchers say that spiders’ voracious appetite help maintain the ecological balance in nature by keeping plant-eating insects in check.
With more than 45,000 species, spiders are abundant in pretty much every corner of the globe. But those in forests and grasslands do the most damage, taking out 95 percent of the total prey killed by the entire global population of spiders. In comparison those that hunt in agricultural areas kill less than two percent, since those habitats offer poor living conditions.
“Our calculations let us quantify for the first time on a global scale that spiders are major natural enemies of insects,” said the study’s lead author Martin Nyffeler from the University of Basel in Switzerland. “In concert with other insectivorous animals such as ants and birds, they help to reduce the population densities of insects significantly.”