“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the spider to the fly – so starts Mary Howitt’s famous poem ‘The Spider and the Fly’. But what happens when an ant decides to take up the spider’s offer? Spiders can and do prey on ants. If an ant wanders unsuspectingly into a spider web and gets stuck, there is no way for it to escape; it provides the spider with an easy meal.
It is no wonder then that a wary ant wanted to get rid of a spider I sighted one day – I was observing an orb weaver spider constructing its web on the dried branches of a tulsi plant (holy basil – Ocimum tenuiflorum). On multiple instances, I have observed ants aggressively driving out spiders and other potential predators.
According to a recent study, spiders coat their web with a pyrrolidine alkaloid, which acts as an ant repellent. This prevents ants, which would otherwise be able to navigate a web by walking on the non-sticky parts of the web, from invading their webs. But it looks like this spider hadn’t used the repellent yet, because the ant reached the spider within its web and bit it. It succeeded in driving the spider out of its own web.
Jumping spiders, which don’t construct webs, stalk and eat ants. Some even disguise themselves as ants to avoid detection.