Araneology is the study of spiders. This page provides some basic information on spiders. First a quick look at the anatomy of spiders. Then a short story about how and what they eat. And finally we discuss their classification to find out if spiders are related to insects.
Tip: If you see a word that you don't understand, look in the Glossary
You can usually recognize a spider because it has 2 major body parts and 8 legs. To learn more about the anatomy, click on the different body parts of this spider !!
How and what do spiders eat?
Spiders are predators. Most spiders eat insects and other spiders, but some of them (the big ones) can even consume fish, small mammals or small birds. There are no vegetarian spiders, but some of them will also feed on plant nectar.
Many spiders use the silk from the spinnerets on their abdomen to make webs to trap their food. These webs are often very complicated structures and it can take a long time to make a perfect web. Spiders can produce different types of silk. In the web the spider has sticky threads, to catch the prey. But the web also has threads that are not sticky so that the spider can walk around without being caught in its own web.
When a fly or another small insects gets caught in the web, the spider will feel this because of the vibrations of the web. It will then quickly capture the prey and bite it while injecting poisonous chemicals into its body. Then it will quickly wrap some silk around the prey to prevent escape.
Spiders have no chewing mouthparts, so they cannot chew their food. Instead they have to suck liquids out of the body of their prey. The poison which they inject in the prey contains chemicals that help dissolve or liquify the inner parts of the prey. Later the spider will then suck out the liquid content.
Spiders can also use the their poisonous bite to defend themselves. Spiders don't attack humans, because we are too big and they can't eat us. ). But spiders can use their poisonous bite to defend themselves, which may happen if we pick up a spider with our hands. Some spider bites can be very painful. But only few species have bites that cause problems to humans.
Not all spiders make webs to catch their food. Some species hunt freely and catch their prey by running after it (e.g. wolf spiders), or they wait in ambush and jump out when a prey insect comes within reach (e.g. trapdoor spiders).
Some people think that spiders are insects, but that's not correct. Let's have a look how animals are classified. Insects and spiders both belong to the arthropods, which includes all animals with jointed legs and hard segmented bodies. But we will see that these arthropods are divided in different classes. Insects and spiders belong in a different class.
Insects belong to the class Hexapoda (this means "six legs"). Within this class of insects we find different orders such as butterflies, beetles, bugs, flies, wasps and bees, etc.
Spiders belong to another class called Arachnida (in English: arachnids). Within this class there is one order called Araneae, which are the spiders. Some other orders in the class Arachnids are Scorpiones (scorpions) and Acarina (mites and ticks).
This is how it looks in a simplified "family tree":
- Insects (Hexapoda)
- Wasps and Bees
- Arachnids (Arachnida)
- Spiders (Araneae)
- Scorpions (Scorpiones)
- Mites and Ticks (Acarina)
- Insects (Hexapoda)
We can now understand why the study of spiders is called araneology. And the study of all arachnids together is called arachnology.
Many school children and teachers visit this page to learn about spiders. If your school has a website, please link to this page.