Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vegetarian spiders

We all know that spiders eat insects, or the occasional bird or small rodent, but it now appear that there exist a breed which is vegetarian, or at least partly vegetarian.

The 60-Second Science podcast over at Scientific American has more on this: Odd Spider Prefers Salad

Scientific American also has an article about the subject

Unusual Spider Species Passes Up Live Prey for Plants

Of the 40,000-plus spider species known, only a few nibble on plants—typically, as a dietary supplement of nectar or simply as an accidental ingestion of pollen. A new paper, published online today in Current Biology, details the natural history of Bagheera kiplingi, a jumping spider that has vegetarian leanings, and its interesting arrangement with a plant and the ants that protect it.

Certain acacia plants (Vachellia collinsii) and ants (Pseudomyrmex peperi) have developed a mutually beneficial arrangement. The plant provides hollow areas for the ants to nest, along with nutritious nuggets, called Beltian bodies, for them to eat. For their part, the ants help to fend off would-be plant eaters. The crafty B. kiplingi, however, has thwarted the system—also feasting on the plant while managing to outmaneuver attacking ants.

It's not known why the spiders prefers to eat the less nutritious plant leaves to other prey, but interestingly enough, the behavior of the spiders while the hunt is the same as it would have been if it was more traditional prey

Despite their unusual meals, these spiders still exhibit some more traditional hunting behavior. "They're like miniature cats," Meehan says. "They literally stalk and hunt the plant,"

I can't help smile at the thought of a spider stalking a plant.

The original study is behind a paywall, but can be found here.

National Geographic also writes about the spider: "Surreal" Vegetarian Spider Found -- A First

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