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 (20)
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • sylviao-pay
    1/11/2017 - 08:24 a.m.

    Does a spider need a web to catch its prey?
    spiders dont necessarily need a web to catch its prey. 1/2 of the spiders species dont make webs for prey but instead hunt for them. spiders use many different tactics to catch their prey witch depends on the species. for example as stated by the article " 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." the article also states that the silk in spider webs is actually used to protect the eggs by warping around them to make an egg case but because of how sticky silk is the webs are also used to catch prey even though its not necessary. to conculde a spider dose not need to web to catch its prey

  • asiar-pay
    1/11/2017 - 08:25 a.m.

    How do spiders commonly trap their prey? Usually, they use webs, but is that the only way for them to trap their prey? According to the article, "Does a spider need a web to catch its prey," by Devin Reese, some spiders use other tactics to catch their prey. All spiders have venom which they use to demobilize their prey. In the article it states, "...it pierces it with sharp fangs to inject the venom." When the spider does it, it attacks nervous system or the body tissues. Although all spiders use venom, different species of spiders use different tactics. For example, the wolf spider hunts down prey, pounces, and may use its long legs to straight jacket it. (This means the spiders strangles its prey until it can no longer breathe.) Another example would be the fishing spider which uses the vibrations in the water made by the prey to capture it. To conclude, there are numerous different ways for a spider to attack/capture its way without using a web.

  • mikeb-pay
    1/11/2017 - 08:25 a.m.

    Spiders are amazing creatures with amazing talent but not all of them are the same some of them use webs to get there prey and some don't. As stated in the article spider use different kind of tactics to catch there prey. All spider have web making ability but not all of them use that ability.One of the things that spiders do have in common is that nearly all spiders use venom. Most of the spiders venom is not harmful to human. But there are some spider which can be classified as venomous according to www.cdc.gov there are spiders like black widow and the brown recluse and more which can be dangerous.

  • dandres-pay
    1/11/2017 - 08:26 a.m.

    Most people know spiders as little eight legged creatures that catch flys with there webs but the real question is can a spider get food without its web.The answer to this would be yes. According to the article there are many spider who use tactics other than webs to catch its prey.For example the 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. And bolas spider dangles sticky balls made of silk and mucus that are scented to lure in moths. These spiders put our perspective of them in a whole other way because we cant just view them as web catchers anymore.But regardless of the technique all of these spiders are significant in their own way.

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