11 October 2009

The Vegetarian spider? Well not quite but almost!


According to the Times scientists have determined that there is such a thing as a vegetarian spider. Bagheera kiplingi, a South American species, lives almost exclusively on acacia leaf buds and is thought to be the only spider of about 40,000 species to have largely rejected a carnivorous diet.

“This is the first spider known to ‘hunt’ plants as a primary food source,” said Christopher Meehan of Villanova University, in Pennsylvania, who observed the creatures, about the size of a thumbnail, on a field trip in Mexico. It must be pointed out that he didn’t actually discover the species. It was discovered in 1896 although a female of the species was not found until the 1990s.

B kiplingi is not totally vegetarian: they will sometimes eat the larvae of the ants that have a symbiotic relationship with the acacias where they live (The ants guard the trees from intruders and in return the acacia produces nodules on its leaves called Beltan bodies. These are protein and fat rich. The ants feed on them, as do the spiders). The spider will also resort to cannibalism

Despite this the discovery is a major surprise for zoologists. Before Meehan’s discovery it was that spider physiology made plant-eating impossible. “Spiders aren’t thought to be capable of eating solid food at all,” said Meehan. Normally they secrete enzymes onto their prey to digest them outside the body and then consume what’s left as a kind of soup. B kiplingi, however, eats its vegetables whole.

Ah this is utterly fascinating stuff...

14 comments:

James Higham said...

Imagine if all insects were human sized.

jams o donnell said...

I'd lean the insect for "sir" very quickly!

Pagan Sphinx said...

I never know what I'll find here!

Spiders in general are very likeable creatures. Or perhaps I've4 read too many children's stories...

Knatolee said...

What a cool story. I love spiders.

Mac the Knife said...

I can't see in the photo, is it wearing sandals?

jams o donnell said...

Pagan Sphinx, Knatolee I love spiders too. My favourite is the crab spiders who frequent our garden

indeed and a bobble hat too Mac!

Claudia said...

I wonder if B kiplingi spins a web, as it doesn't need to trap its food. Interesting!

Claudia said...

I admire spiders'talent and industry.

jams o donnell said...

It may use the web as a means of anchoring. THe Crab spider is an ambush predator sdo it doesn't spin a web. It still can spin the silk though. I agree I love spiders

susan said...

I'm not so sure about my love of spiders since I'm still wearing little scars from a definitely non-vegetarian one that tried to subdue me while I was sleeping last summer. The bite marks were an eighth of an inch apart and I still shudder to think of it crawling on me.

jams o donnell said...

1/8th inch? that's a big fellow! I might not have been so charitable to that one!

Chrystal K. said...

That's not so hard to believe for those of us that don't study science.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Vegetarian spider, with a bit of cannibalism on the side... truly amazing.

On the other hand, vegetarians contribute to the global warning. All that methane - farts, to be brief.

jams o donnell said...

Simultaneously and angel and a demon Snoopy!