Crickets fatten up to avoid being eaten by spiders

Piet Spaans

Crickets fatten up to avoid being eaten by spiders

It’s tough for a cricket to enjoy succulent foliage when a hungry spider may be nearby. But spiders leave a few telltale cues in their wake. A new study in this month's issue of Ecological Entomology shows that crickets respond to these cues in unexpected and lifesaving ways. Scientists examined predator-prey responses in lab tests of more than 60 wood crickets (Nemobius sylvestris, pictured) and nursery web spiders (Pisaura mirabilis), both common European species. Crickets placed in a closed pot with a strawberry plant previously occupied by a spider ate 72% more food on average and were more likely to survive a future encounter with a spider. The spiders may have left behind chemical or physical calling cards, which triggered the stress eating. The team believes crickets bulked up as a survival strategy, because they could not flee and spiders are less likely to eat larger prey. These findings surprised researchers, who expected threatened crickets to eat less and lose weight, as seen in other predation experiments. But a cricket’s response to spider cues may depend on the setting. Crickets may prefer to flee but will bulk up if there’s no easy way out. This is an important lesson for pest control. Sprinkling a few spider cues on crops could drive certain pests away, but only if they find an easy exit. Otherwise, they could end up eating more.

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