Just the other day, I came across an article that had to be a hoax, somewhere up there with newborns singing Christmas carols. I figured it was probably put out by The Onion, but was intrigued to find out more. After reading the story in a few more reputable sources, I realized it was indeed true. There are spiders that are herbivorous, meaning their primary diet is......PLANTS!
I am a lover of spiders, an arachnophile, if you will. I am not an expert, but thought I knew quite a bit about the critters. In all my life, I had NEVER heard of a spider that ate plants. I was quite excited about it.
And here is a picture of said critter. The species is Bagheera kiplingi, a type of jumping spider. Its name comes from The Jungle Book. Bagheera was the name of the black panther and kiplingi is in reference to the author, Rudyard Kipling. This species of spider has been found in Costa Rica and in Mexico. The population that is causing all the recent fuss is located in Mexico and is believed to have a diet of 90% plants. This is unheard of in the arachnid world.
So what is the spider in the photo above eating, you may wonder? The small orange item looks much like an aphid, but actually it is the spider's favorite food called Beltian bodies. Beltian bodies are scrumptious parts of the acacia tree. They are located on the very tips of the leaves and are guarded by ants. Beltian bodies, named after their discoverer Thomas Belt, are rich in proteins and lipids (fats). The spider spends most of its time scurrying around stealing the Beltian bodies and avoiding the ever wary ants.
The picture above shows some ants guarding the Beltian bodies. There is a symbiotic relationship between the acacia tree and the ants. The ants protect the tree from predators and destroy any neighboring plants. In return, the tree gives the ants housing within the thorns, tasty Beltian bodies and nectar .
Besides feasting on Beltain bodies, Bagheera kiplingi also eats nectar from the tree and a few ant larvae. Ant larvae look very similar in shape to the Beltian bodies. I wonder if ant larvae primarily made up the spiders diet at one time and then, maybe by accident, a spider started eating the Beltian bodies. Just a theory... Nature truly ceases to amaze!
For more info on this amazing little spider, visit these sites.
And, not to blow your minds all in one day, there is also a carnivorous butterfly in existence and it lives right here in Indiana. One of my friends even had one visit his back yard. This is a horror story that will curl your toes people! You will never look at those cute little butterflies in the same light. But I will cover that story in my next post. (How is that for a teaser? ; P )