Spiders come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny jumping spider to the massive tarantula. But no matter how big or small, all spiders are carnivores – they eat meat. While adult spiders prey on insects and other small animals, baby spiders have different dietary needs to help them grow. So, what do little spiders eat?
What Do Little Spiders Eat?
When spiderlings first hatch from their eggs, they are incredibly tiny, often smaller than the head of a pin. At this stage, baby spiders don’t need to eat solid food. They survive on the yolk from inside their eggs, which provides enough nutrients for their first few days of life.
Once the spiderling finishes absorbing its yolk, it starts to hunt, but its prey is surprisingly small. The tiniest spiders eat microscopic particles like fungal spores and bacteria. They might also drink water droplets to stay hydrated.
As the spiderlings grow bigger over the subsequent several moults, they move onto slightly more substantial meals. Tiny flies, mosquitoes, aphids and other minute insects become fair game. The small size of these prey matches the petite size of the young spiders. They can take down and eat insects the same size as their body.
While tiny spiders don’t need to eat much due to their small size, they have fierce appetites! Spiderlings will voraciously attack any appropriately sized prey that crosses their path. They can eat an astonishing amount relative to their body mass.
This non-stop hunting and feeding is crucial for tiny spiders. They need the energy to fuel their growth through successive moults as they grow. Most spiders will go through around 5-10 moults before reaching adulthood. Each time they shed their old exoskeleton and grow a new one, they emerge larger.
As juvenile spiders mature, they gradually transition to more substantial prey. The exact size and type of prey depend on the species. Here are some examples:
- Jumping spiders may start out eating tiny springtails and work their way up to small flies. Adults hunt much larger game, like butterflies, beetles and even bees.
- Orb weaver spiders spin delicate webs to trap minuscule gnats and mosquitoes. After a few moults, they weave bigger webs that can catch larger flies and moths.
- Wolf spiders are ground hunters. After exhausting their yolk, they may feed on collembola species before moving on to aphids and beetles as they grow. Adults chase down much faster prey on the ground.
- Fishing spiders nibble on midge larvae and other aquatic insects. Once they get bigger, they dive and swim for small fish and tadpoles near the water’s edge.
No matter the species, most juvenile spiders need to eat very frequently. Their high metabolism demands lots of food to fuel growth and activity. When food is scarce, young spiders may survive several days by drawing upon reserves from their abdomens. But frequent feeding is crucial for healthy development.
As spiders near adulthood, they become skilled hunters and efficient eaters. At their full mature size, most spiders only need to eat once every few days to a week. Their prey is also larger in proportion to their body size. Adult spiders expend minimal energy stalking familiar prey and can gorge themselves with one big meal.
What Do Baby Pet Spiders Eat?
Lots of kids think spiders are fascinating and want one as a pet. But do baby pet spiders need special care and feeding? Not really! Hatchling tarantulas, jumping spiders and other pet spiders eat the same foods as their wild counterparts.
The main difference is that the pet owner provides appropriately sized feeder insects, like:
- Fruit flies, pinhead crickets or wingless fruit flies for tiny spiderlings
- Small crickets, flies, mealworms or cockroach nymphs for juveniles
- Adult crickets, grasshoppers, roaches and small mice or lizards for adult pet spiders
It’s important to give spiders prey that is manageable for them to handle. Much like in the wild, pet spiderlings need food in proportion to their body size. As your spiderling grows with successive moults, you can gradually increase the size of its feeder insects.
With the right enclosure size, temperature, humidity and feeding schedule, raising a baby spider into adulthood can be very rewarding! Just remember, spiderlings are voracious and rapid growers. They need several feedings per week to support their development. A varied diet of live insects keeps pet spiders happy and healthy.
How Do Spider Parents Feed Their Young?
Most spider parents don’t actively raise or feed their offspring in the wild. The exception is wolf spiders. After wolf spider eggs hatch, the babies clamber onto their mother’s back and ride around with her for several weeks.
During this time, the mother captures extra prey to share with the young spiders, crowding her body and legs. She regurgitates liquid food for them until they are big enough to hunt independently.
Aside from wolf spiders, most spider parents provide for their offspring differently. Mother spiders manufacture nutritious silken egg sacs and deposit their fertilised eggs inside. The eggs have enough yolk to sustain the embryos and freshly hatched spiders for several days.
The mothers pack their egg sacs full of concentrated “spider milk” made of proteins, fats and other nutrients. This takes much energy to produce but allows the mothers to lay hundreds or thousands of eggs. Once the eggs are securely deposited in the sac, the mothers have completed their parental duties. After hatching, they don’t need to hunt for food to feed the spiderlings.
Some spider species will stand guard over their egg sacs, but this is to protect the eggs from predators. For instance, female crab spiders remain with their sac during the months-long incubation and carry the spiderlings on their backs briefly after hatching before sending them on their way.
In most cases, spiders say “bon appetit” to their offspring from inside the egg sac, then let them handle mealtime on their own once they emerge! It’s a challenging life, but if the spiderlings can survive to adulthood, they will grow large enough to hunt whatever prey their species desires.