60-Second Science

Odd Spider Prefers Salad

In a study in the journal Current Biology, researchers report the discovery of an unusual spider, Bagheera kiplingi, that eschews meat and chews acacia tips. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

It’s said that real men don’t each quiche. And real spiders don’t eat salad. Or so everyone thought, until scientists discovered a jumping spider that seems to be a vegetarian. The report appears in the journal Current Biology.

Spiders are notorious hunters, luring prey into their sticky webs or ambushing them from behind a leaf. But field researchers have found that a jumping spider called Bagheera kiplingi actually prefers the leaf—or in this case, the leaf-tips produced by the acacia shrub. These tasty tips are usually eaten by ants that live on the plant and protect it from hungry herbivores. Or at least try to.

The veggie-loving spiders, it seems, outwit the ants by making themselves scarce or by spinning silky droplines to give the ants the slip. They may also pull the old wolf-in-sheep’s clothing trick by cloaking themselves in the ants’ chemical scent, a possibility the scientists are trying to sniff out.

For some of these spiders, acacia tips make up more than 90 percent of their diet. So, little Miss Muffet has nothing to fear from B. Kiplingi. Unless she’s sitting on an acacia bush. In which case here’s a tip: get a new tuffet, Muffet.

—Karen Hopkin

For more on the vegetarian arachnid, see Unusual Spider Species Passes Up Live Prey for Plants

And to hear a podcast about spiders in general with expert Greta Binford, go to Arachnophilia!

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