According to experts, if you add up the weight eaten by the world’s entire spider population in a single year, it is more than the combined weight of every human on the planet. Shudder.
Sometimes science shocks us with information about our everyday surroundings that we would really be better off not knowing. This is certainly the case with data analyzed by some European researchers who estimated that the annual “fresh weight” of insects consumed by the global spider community is somewhere between 400-800 metric tons of insects. 1
The European research team was kind enough to place these numbers into context for us: the entire human population in the world consumes an estimated 400 million tons of meat and fish annually while whales consume somewhere between 280 to 500 million tons of seafood in a year.1
OK, so that’s really bad news for the spiders’ source of sustainable bug protein. But here is where the thought gets uncomfortable. Another group of researchers, this time a team from the U.S. and Denmark, surveyed 50 houses (with a total of 554 rooms) in Raleigh, North Carolina and found spiders in every home. Among the 554 rooms they surveyed, there were only 4 bathrooms and 1 bedroom that did not have any bugs. 2
Christopher Ingraham, writing for the Washington Post, connects the dots between the amount spiders eat and the way spiders live in every room of our house to come to another startling statistical conclusion: “The total biomass of all adult humans on Earth is estimated to be 287 million tons. Even if you tack on another 70 million-ish tons to account for the weight of kids, it’s still not equal to the total amount of food eaten by spiders in a given year, exceeding the total weight of humanity. In other words, spiders could eat all of us and still be hungry.” 3 Of course, it is just a theory that spiders could eat us all in a year, but the fact that Mr. Ingraham was writing for the Economic Policy section of the Washington Post might give us pause…is there a conspiracy afoot that we don’t know about?
Finally, the European research team also figured out that the world’s spider population weighs in at just under 30 million tons. Mr. Ingraham was kind enough to let us know that the amount is comparable to 478 Titanics (the great ship itself weighed 52,000 tons). 3
Before you jump all over the spider estimates, you should know that the European researchers (from the University of Basel in Switzerland and Lund University in Sweden) consulted data from 65 previous studies to figure out that there are about 25 million metric tons of spiders in the world. These include spiders that live in forests, grasslands, croplands, deserts, urban areas and even tundra. The team then calculated the amount of food a spider eats each day. 4
Once again, Mr. Ingraham helps us appreciate the findings: “Spider biologists have also generally found that spiders consume approximately 10 percent of their body weight in food per day. That’s equivalent to a 200-pound man eating 20 pounds of meat each day. Conversely, it would take approximately 2,000 pounds of spiders to consume a 200-pound man in one day.” 3
Unless the Washington Post knows something we don’t, it looks like humans are safe from becoming spider chow in the near future. For now, spiders thrive on all kinds of bugs like mosquitoes and flies that have the nerve to cohabitate with us. 5 The European researchers hope that their study will “raise public awareness and increase the level of appreciation for the global role of spiders in terrestrial food webs.” 1 One has to wonder if the peer reviewers caught the pun at the end of the paper!
1Nyffeler, M. & Birkhofer, K. An estimated 400–800 million tons of prey are annually killed by the global spider community. The Science of Nature. 2017;104: 30.
2Bertone MA, Leong M, Bayless KM, Malow TLF, Dunn RR, Trautwein MD. 2016. Arthropods of the great indoors: characterizing diversity inside urban and suburban homes. PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences. 2016 Jan 19;4:e1582.
3Ingraham C. Spiders could theoretically eat every human on Earth in one year. 28 March 2017. Washington Post.
4Springer. Spiders eat astronomical numbers of insects: Spiders feed on an estimated 400 to 800 million tons of insects and other pests annually; in comparison, all humans consume about 400 million tons in meat and fish. 14 March 2017. ScienceDaily.
5Forelich A. If spiders worked together, they could eat all humans in just one year. 22 December 2018. Truth Theory.
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