Do Spiders Eat Ladybugs?

Do Spiders Eat Ladybugs?

Spiders get a bad press. For many, they are the stuff of nightmares – creeping, alien, malevolent. Ladybugs get great press. For many, they are the epitome of beauty – cute, gentle, benign.

The thing is, though – such extreme portrayals rarely reveal the full picture. The truth is spiders produce silk that is stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar, can see the light we humans cannot see, and spin webs of bewitching intricacy. On the other hand, ladybugs are brutal killers, are sexually promiscuous, and can resort to cannibalism!

So, with that cleared up, what about our main question, Do spiders eat ladybugs?

In short, yes – some do some of the time. For instance, cellar spiders and joro spiders are two species that will snack on a ladybug when the need arises although both prefer something a little more substantial when it’s available.

Those bigger meals include other flies, other spiders, other spiders’ eggs, and other spiders’ captured prey.

However, in the spirit of balance we’ve already established, let’s pose another question: Do ladybugs eat spiders?’ Once again, yes – some do some of the time!

Let’s delve into the world of spiders’ and ladybugs’ dietary habits!

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When do spiders eat ladybugs?

Presumably only when they’re very hungry because one of the tiny beetles’ defenses is that they taste bad!

Why eat ladybugs?

Spider macro
Spider macro

Why indeed? When resources are scarce a ladybug may be just what is needed to plug the gap. When other treats are on offer, many predators – cellar and joro spiders included – will choose the alternative. The reason doesn’t come down to the size of the meal alone: ladybugs have a number of defense mechanisms they employ to encourage predators to look somewhere else.

They use a combination of being unpalatable and warning others that is the case, being difficult to capture, biting and fighting, releasing bad smells, and playing dead.

Ladybugs taste bad: if a ladybug gets attacked and eaten it releases yellow reflex blood’, which is not in fact a type of blood, but a substance rich in toxic alkaloids and with an unpleasant taste. We humans don’t need to worry about holding ladybugs or even being bitten by them because the toxins don’t affect us. For the animal that does eat them, though, the taste is unpleasant enough to mean they won’t want to try a second one!

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Of course this doesn’t help the poor guy who’s just been swallowed, but it does save the lives of other ladybugs encountered by that specific individual.

Ladybugs give a warning: there would be little point in tasting bad without finding a way of reminding the animal that ate you which species you were. Ladybugs do this by having distinctive markings. Yes, that’s right: the attractive appearance of ladybugs (which is often red with black spots but can also be yellow with black spots or even unspotted orange, blue or white) is not for the viewing pleasure of us or any other observer, it is a sign that says

Don’t forget that creatures like me taste bad!’ This type of aposematic coloring is used by a huge variety of animals to warn predators that their potential prey may taste unpleasant, be toxic, or packing a seriously damaging weapon.

Sleeping spider
Sleeping spider

Ladybugs fight back: the little beetles are able to give adversaries quite a strong nip using their powerful mouth parts and this will sometimes be enough to send their attacker packing. When that isn’t an adequate defense, the ladybug is able to reduce its vulnerability by pulling its limbs inside its outer shell. The shell is hard and smooth and its shape makes it difficult for other animals to get a good hold on the ladybug.

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Incidentally, that outer shell is known as the elytra. When a ladybug flies you see it lifted up and acting as a type of protective canopy over the insect’s delicate wings.

Ladybugs can make themselves smelly: the ladybug has a less drastic version of discouraging a predator than tasting bad when eaten. Before it gets to that stage they are able to emit a foul odor that may give their adversary an idea of how the ladybug taste should matter proceed that far.

Ladybugs can act: as with many insects, ladybugs will play dead when they think this will dampen the enthusiasm of someone looking for a fresh meal. For many animals, it is vital that their food is as fresh as possible. The best way to be sure of this is to kill it yourself. If the ladybug is able to convince the attacker that it is already dead, that attacker has no way of knowing how long the carcass’ has been there and so will be risking eating a meal that isn’t as fresh as desired.

Of course, this is a risky strategy. If you pretend to be dead and the attention of your attacker causes you to move, you don’t have much time and space to get up and run!

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When do ladybugs eat spiders?

Funnel spider
Funnel spider

Presumably only when they’re very hungry!

To be fair, we need to make sure you aren’t left with an inaccurate vision of a super-strong ladybug chowing down on a tarantula or a horde of ladybugs jumping a jumping spider, so let us explain. When a ladybug chooses to eat dinner with eight legs, it is usually spider mites they opt for. Spider mites are a very small (0.04 in / < 1 mm) relative of the spider that a ladybug will eat when its other, preferred, sources of food are not in abundance.

Of the many different types of ladybugs, most are omnivores but there are some that have animal-only or plant-only diets. For those that predominantly eat creatures, aphids are the most popular dish, with some ladybugs consuming as many as 50 every day!

They will also sample honey, fruit, pollen, and vegetation… but as we mentioned at the start of the article, ladybugs can be ruthless and brutal, stealing and eating the eggs and larvae of butterflies, moths, spiders…and other ladybugs!

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Yes, ladybugs will kill and eat other ladybugs’ babies! This has the double benefit of providing them with energy to continue nurturing their own offspring as well as reducing nearby competition for other sources of food.

In truth, this isn’t particularly shocking to those who know ladybugs aren’t gentle beetles but are in fact just as single-minded as other such creatures that do everything possible to look after their young.

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Adrian Volenik

I've lived around animals my whole life and I hold a Diploma in Animal Physiology. When I'm not reading or writing about wild animals, health and fitness, and technology, you can find me playing with my son and two cats. My pastimes include running, playing video games, and solving the NY Times crossword.