A spider is a fascinating creature that can unwittingly terrify little kids. But if kids learn more about this eight-legged arthropod, they might come to love it.
This carnivorous creature feeds on insects, and in a way, works as pest control for your house and garden. There are over 45,000 known spider species, and only a few of them can prove dangerous to humans. Although small in size, we still have a lot to learn about them.
Here are some fascinating facts about spiders for kids and everything else you need to know about them.
What Do Spiders Eat?
Spiders feed on insects such as flies, fleas, mosquitoes, ants, and cockroaches. Some species of jumping spiders feed on nectar and pollen. Spiders drink water. When food is scarce, their water intake increases to help them survive. This is one of the reasons they are often found near water sources.
When hunting prey, a spider uses its fifth pair of appendages, known as pedipalps, to hold its prey and uses its fangs to bite it. It then wraps the prey in silk and waits for it to die. The spider then sprays a digestive enzyme on the dead prey to easily eat and digest it.
Can Spiders Kill Humans?
Spiders are too small to be able to kill humans. The venom they hold is meant to decapitate smaller creatures and not humans. However, if this venom comes in contact with human skin, it can cause skin allergies. A spider bite can prove fatal to humans only in very rare cases.
30 Fascinating Facts About Spiders For Kids
If your child is afraid of Mr. Spidey, share the following spider facts with them and see if they finally warm up to it.
- Not all spiders spin webs to catch prey. Certain species of spiders, such as jumping spiders, wolf spiders, and crab spiders, also known as hunting spiders, do not spin webs and instead have different ways of catching prey.
- The food preference of spiders differs with species. Spiders that build webs to catch prey eat insects that fly, such as moths and mosquitoes. Some underwater spiders spin their web to catch fish for their food. The hunting spiders are swift runners and quickly take down bigger insects, such as beetles and grasshoppers. Some spiders even eat leaves of the Acacia tree.
- Bagheera kiplingi, a species of spiders found in Central America, is known for its herbivorous diet. It is mostly found on trees with leaves and buds that are high in protein. However, it becomes carnivorous and eats ant larvae or even other spiders to survive during the dry season.
- There are five types of spider webs unique to specific species. Learn more about them below:
- Spiral orb webs: Made by orb weavers, their design resembles a wheel with spokes. To make a spiral orb web, the spider first creates a non-sticky web before creating a sticky one and then removes the first one, leaving the second spiral to trap its prey.
- Tangle webs: Commonly known as cobwebs, these are found around houses and other closed spaces. These webs are made by house spiders. They do not have a specific design and are jumbled, entangled webs supported by a base.
- Sheet webs: These are created by several species, including the platform spider and filmy dome spider. The spiders create a flat sheet of silk between tufts of grass or branches along with a net of criss-crossed threads right above the sheet. The prey first hits the net and then is trapped in the sheet.
- Funnel webs: Members of the Agelenidae family, such as the hobo spider, create these webs. These are large and flat horizontal webs with openings at both ends so the spider can enter and exit quickly.
- Triangle web: Shaped like a triangle, this web looks like a slice of pizza. These webs are not sticky but somewhat fuzzy with tiny fibers that can smother a prey stuck on them. Spiders belonging to the Uloborid family create this web.
- Spider webs are silk made from protein. Spiders produce this silk in their glands located within the abdomen. Each of these glands is known to produce different threads for different purposes.
- The silk inside the spider is a liquid. It hardens after it is released in the air and forms a thread. The silk produced by a spider is five times stronger than steel.
- A spider web is made of thousands of thin silk strands. Each strand is 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.
- A spider’s heart is like a tube with several small holes (ostia) in it. Unlike a human heart, it does not have chambers but has valves on each end to let the blood flow in the same direction.
- The brain of a spider is so large that it extends to its body cavities and legs. The smaller the spider, the larger the brain in proportion to its size.
- Spiders can thrive anywhere in the world except Antarctica.
- Prey catching or hunting differs for each species. Most spiders catch prey by creating a web. This sticky web helps trap insects. Once stuck, the spider bites the prey and injects its venom into it. This venom immobilizes the prey, and the spider eats it at leisure.
- A spider’s body has two parts, the front, known as the ‘cephalothorax,’ and the abdomen. Attached to the cephalothorax are its eight legs, mouth, eyes, fang-like extensions known as ‘chelicerae.’ The abdomen holds its digestive system and reproductive parts. The silk-producing glands are located on its underside.
- Most species of spiders have eight eyes, while a few have six eyes. Some spider species that live in caves are known to have no eyes. Most spiders do not have good vision and mostly use their senses of smell and touch to detect and catch prey.
- Jumping spiders are most active during the day and have excellent vision. However, they are unable to see very well at night.
- The reproduction activity for spiders starts with the male spider looking out for a female to mate with. Once he finds a female, she has to be willing to mate and not fear being attacked or devoured by it. After mating, she lays the eggs and protects them.
- A few spider species can lay around 3,000 eggs at a given time. Most spider eggs are round or oblong in shape and white or cream in color. Spider eggs generally have a smooth exterior, while some may have bumps and spikes. Baby spiders that have just hatched out of their eggs are known as ‘spiderlings.’
- Spiders are arachnids with eight legs and no antennae. The front two legs, known as ‘pedipalps,’ work like hands to hold onto prey.
- The average lifespan of spiders is two years. However, some spiders, such as tarantulas, can live for as long as twenty years in captivity. Female spiders are known to live longer than male spiders.
- Semi-aquatic species of spiders are known to hunt fishes. Spiders such as the pond wolf and six-spotted fishing spiders live around ponds or shallow freshwater streams where fishes come closer to the surface. Endowed with powerful neurotoxins and enzymes, these spiders can kill and digest fishes relatively larger than them.
- Garden spiders do not pose a threat to humans or pets. They possess venom that helps paralyze their prey. However, the venom is not strong enough to hurt humans. The venom may cause some problems for individuals with compromised immune systems. These spiders are not very aggressive and do not usually bite or attack humans.
- House spiders pose little to no threat to humans. The venom in their fangs can render their prey immobile, but they hardly have any effect on humans. At most, it can irritate the skin for a while.
- Grass spiders too pose almost no threat to humans. Their fangs are too small to penetrate human skin.
- The Goliath Birdeater is the biggest spider on Earth. Belonging to the Tarantula family, it can grow up to 11 inches and live for about 20 years.
- The ‘black widow’ spider is named so because it is believed that the female spider eats the male species after mating, although a very rare occurrence.
- Spiders do not have a tongue to taste. The fine chemosensitive hair on their first pair of legs enables them to taste their prey and determine if it is consumable.
- Spiders help balance our ecosystem. They eat harmful insects and help pollinate plants. They are also food for several types of mammals, birds, and fish.
- Cannibalism is common in spiders. Some female spiders are believed to consume the male spider before, during, or after mating.
- To avoid being eaten up by the female spider, the male spider offers a gift (a prey to consume) wrapped in silk before mating. The male spider even dances to attract and convince the female spider to mate with it.
- Spiders have blue blood called ‘hemolymph.’ This is because the oxygen in the blood is bound to a molecule called hemocyanin that consists of copper.
- Spiders have a voracious appetite. A recent study suggests that spiders kill 400-800 million tons of prey each year. Let’s put this into context. Spiders could eat all humans on this planet in one year if they wished.
So, aren’t spiders beneficial and interesting creatures? They are extremely vital for our ecosystem. However, the loss of habitat has caused several spider species to become endangered. Now that your child knows that most spiders are harmless, perhaps they will not freak out on spotting one in the house or the garden.
2. Myth: Spiders only “suck juices” of prey; Burke Museum
3. What are spider webs made from and how strong are they?; The University of Queensland
4. Spider silk is five times stronger than steel—now, scientists know why; American Association for the Advancement of Science
5. Brains of tiny spiders fill their body cavities and legs, Smithsonian researchers discover; Smithsonian
6. Araneae – What do they look like?; The Regents of the University of Michigan
7. How Many Eyes Does a Spider Have?; Wonderpolis
8. Tarantulas – Breeding; Young People’s Trust for the Environment
9. Eight-Legged Facts; University of Wyoming
10. Weird & Wonderful Creatures: Goliath Birdeater; American Association for the Advancement of Science
11. Copper for Life: Haemocyanin; Copper Development Association
12. Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer; An estimated 400-800 million tons of prey are annually killed by the global spider community; Die Natturwissenschaften (2017).
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