Does a spider need a web to catch its prey? Front view of a trap-jaw spider head (family Mecysmaucheniidae) showing pinching mouthparts that snap shut to capture prey the same size or even larger than itself. (Hannah Wood, Smithsonian/Stephanie Stone)
Does a spider need a web to catch its prey?
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What sort of spider can capture its prey without a web? We think of spiders as web-makers, but about half of all known spider species do not make webs. Still, they have organs called spinnerets that spin out silk for other uses. Silk can help a spider wrap up their eggs to make an egg case, line its burrow, or swing to the ground from a branch.
 
All spiders are predators, and they sport a huge variety of tactics for capturing their prey. Spiders that do not make webs have other ways to get their meals. A wolf spider hunts down prey, pounces, and may use its long legs to straight-jacket it. A fishing spider gets its meal by scurrying over water towards vibrations made by prey. A bolas spider dangles sticky balls made of silk and mucus that are scented to lure in moths. A spitting spider launches a sticky fluid to immobilize its victims.
 
Regardless of their capture technique, nearly all spiders use venom. Once a spider has its prey in hand (actually in its grasping appendages called "chelicerae"), it pierces it with sharp fangs to inject the venom. Spider venom can damage nervous systems or other body tissues, depending on the species. But the vast majority of spider venom does not cause any harm to humans.
 
One group of spiders with a long name (Palpimanoids) tends to specialize on eating other spiders. What's odd is that the way these spiders capture prey may be as complex as their long scientific name. The pelican spider plucks at other spiders' webs, then swings its super-long chelicerae outward to pierce them after attracting them over. Another spider in the same group has vice-like chelicerae that snap shut on its prey with an acceleration that can exceed 1,000 times the acceleration of a space shuttle. Dubbed the trap-jaw spider by Smithsonian entomologist Dr. Hannah Wood, its jaw-like parts look like they are doing splits while they wait in the open position for prey.

Learn more about how spiders capture prey in a live "Smithsonian Science How" webcast on Thursday, January 12, 2017. In "Powerful Predators: Adaptations of Trap-Jaw Spiders" (airs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST on the Q?rius website), Smithsonian scientist Hannah Wood will show you the technology she uses to analyze spider predator adaptations and answer your questions live. You can also get teaching resources to use with the webcast.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How do vibrations help a fishing spider?
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COMMENTS (95)
  • zakrym-ste
    1/03/2017 - 01:26 p.m.

    about 1/2 of all spiders do not need to make webs. they use many different tactics to catch their prey. the type of tactic they use depends on the species

  • monicas-ste
    1/04/2017 - 01:45 p.m.

    Spiders are so gross but this is very fascinating. This was a really good article. It's amazing what all spiders can do.

  • kaileew-ste
    1/05/2017 - 09:08 p.m.

    Spiders can use their silk for others reason just for webs. One thing they use it for is to swing from a bush to the ground. I did not know they could do that!

  • marqueel-orc
    1/06/2017 - 02:36 p.m.

    Vibrations in the water makes ripples that can be seen.

  • tamiam-pay
    1/10/2017 - 11:12 a.m.

    Spiders don't necessarily have to generate webs to hunt for their food. As explained in this article, webbing is one of the hunting method spiders can use and of course, all spiders do have spinnerets which makes webbing more common. Webbing itself is use for more things such as hollows for their offspring.

  • shanes2-hei
    1/10/2017 - 01:59 p.m.

    So that it uses it to find its food.

  • jamaurianr1-hei
    1/10/2017 - 01:59 p.m.

    It helps them because it help them find food.

  • tylerr-pay
    1/11/2017 - 07:57 a.m.

    The article stated " All spiders have spinnerets", which allows them to make webs, but only half the species make webs. So anyone can infer that obviously spiders do not need webs to catch it's prey.

  • kingsleyp-pay
    1/11/2017 - 08:08 a.m.

    Not all spiders need a spider web to catch it's prey. they have many different spiders that has there own way of catching they're prey for example balas spider make a sticky ball just to lure the moths.

  • izmaz-pay
    1/11/2017 - 08:11 a.m.

    Although we consider them to be web-makers, spiders don't necessarily need a web to catch their prey. In fact, a lot of the spider population don't even create webs. The woven web surely does help with the capturing of preys, however it is not mandatory to do. As mentioned in the article, spiders that dont spin web have other different ways to get their pray. For instance, the wolf spider. Without using a web, it manages to expose themselves to a prey daily.
    While some use their mucus, other use the vibrations of their movement to lock their prey into place. However, regardless of whatever the fact may be, majority of the spiders do use venom. Once their prey is in place, they approach and stop them with their long, skimpy legs to stop the movement before biting fiercely down to immune the creature with venom. Although it has an effect on animals, it does not, as mentioned in the passage, affect humans (for the most part).
    Overall, spiders do not need to create webs to capture their pray. Different species tend to have different techniques, which all at the end of the day, work out and supply them with their resource of food.

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