Spiders don’t have teeth, so they have to liquefy their targets first before they consume them. They use enzymes to break down a prey’s body into a chitinous soup, which is then sucked through the spider’s straw-like mouth into its stomach.
Some spiders use venom to paralyze the target and kill it, while others will wrap the prey in silk and bite it there or paralyze it with the wrapping. In the meantime, they’ll also use their powerful fangs to pin down the animal and cover it in enzymes from its stomach, after which, the animal will start to turn into a more liquid form.
How Do Spiders Eat Their Prey?
Spiders have to first turn the animal they catch into a liquid form before they can eat it. That’s because they don’t have teeth, but they have a tube-like mouth instead that is used for sucking liquids or liquid-like forms.
The process of turning their prey into the food they can eat can last several hours, if not days. This will depend on the size of the prey, but also the potency of the enzymes of the spider. Some spiders have more powerful enzymes, as they use them to turn their prey into a more liquid form.
First, spiders have to catch animals of prey. Some do that by ambushing, while others do that by setting up intricate web systems (see also: types of spider webs). Once they catch their target, some spiders will pin it down using their fangs, and then bite the target to inject the venom. This will then paralyze the animal and in some cases, kill it.
Other spiders use silk to wrap their animals of prey. This silk is strong enough to make the animal unable to move, and then the spider would either bite it to inject the venom or let it inside the net (this is typical for Uloboridae spiders, who don’t have venom glands).
All spiders will cover their target with enzymes from their stomach, which is a sort of digestive fluid that turns the animal into a more liquid form. Some would call it a sort of a “chitinous soup”, as it is liquid, but still not entirely a liquid – it’s more of a thick liquid than most would imagine it to be.
After this process is complete, the spider is then able to consume the animal slowly by sucking it into its mouth. As the food enters its mouth, it will move down its digestive system and into the stomach, where the food will be further processed and broken down into smaller components.
Related: Are there Blood Sucking Spiders?
Do Spiders Eat their Prey Alive?
Most spiders don’t eat their prey alive, because the prey will most likely die much earlier because of the venom that is injected into a target’s body.
You should know that the process of a spider eating its prey can take several hours, which is why it’s almost impossible for the prey to survive the entire process. Most insects, especially the smaller ones, would not survive getting bitten by the spider and will succumb to the venom that kills it.
Other animals of prey, especially larger animals of prey, will probably die after getting covered in enzymes from the stomach of the spider, if not earlier. Some prey will also suffocate as a result of a tight net that is woven around their bodies by web-weaving spiders that prey on such animals.
A spider would rarely eat their prey alive because if the prey is alive, the spider would not be able to digest it very well. Additionally, the spider also doesn’t have teeth and would not be able to break down the body of the prey, so it would usually have to wait until the enzymes from its stomach start breaking down the prey into a liquid.
The majority of spiders will hold the animal in its fangs while injecting the digestive enzymes into the animal’s body – other spiders will pour the enzymes all over the animal’s body, which would completely kill off the animal – if it wasn’t already killed by the venom that was previously injected into its body.
Related: How Often do Spiders Eat?
Do All Spiders Wrap their Prey?
Not all spiders wrap their prey before eating it – some spiders, particularly ambushing spiders, will inject venom and hold down the prey with its fangs instead.
You might have already seen spider webs and the silk structures that are found inside these webs – yes, this is quite a common occurrence, because many spiders wrap their prey into thick layers of silk.
The animals that are caught inside this wrapping will be squeezed very tightly and left without food or water – so the animal will die in a matter of hours. Some spiders will also inject the venom into the wrapped target to make it die quickly, and then cover it with enzymes.
However, ambushing spiders don’t wrap their targets with silk at all. They’ll hold the target with its fangs instead, and then inject the venom and the digestive enzymes into the target’s body at the same time. These enzymes will then turn the animal into a liquid form, which will make it easier for the spider to consume the animal.
Uloborid spiders are particularly well-known for their capacity to create tight webs around their prey. They don’t have venom, so they have to create thick layers of silk that will squeeze the prey and kill it after some time. It might seem as though uloborid spiders wrap too much silk around their prey, but it’s a preventive measure to disable the prey and kill it off.
RELATED SPIDER DIET FACTS:
Spiders are excellent predators who have a special, distinct mechanism for eating their prey. They don’t have teeth, which means they have to rely heavily on their venom and their digestive enzymes to assist them.
Before eating their prey, spiders have to turn the prey into a more liquid form, which allows them to then suck the prey through their straw-like mouths.