Wait ... spiders pig out on how much each year?!

You don't know the true meaning of all-you-can-eat unless you're a hungry spider. A new study delves into how many tons of insects go down the spider hatch annually.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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A house spider hangs out in a web.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

Don't kill that spider. Catch it and escort it safely outside so it can do its part in downing an estimated 400 to 800 million metric tons of prey each year.

A new study puts a massive number on the eating habits of spiders worldwide, and it's truly astounding.

The study appeared online Tuesday in the journal The Science of Nature. A release on the research compares the spiders' intake with humans' estimated consumption of 400 million tons of meat and fish annually.

Researchers Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer compiled data from 65 previous studies to estimate the number of spiders in the world. The prey-chomping number comes from estimates of how much spiders need to eat to survive along with field observations of spider meals.

Studying spiders and their eating habits can be challenging. The critters tend to be secretive and some are nocturnal. The wide range of the 400-800 million metric tons estimate shows just how much extrapolation went into this and how hard it is to land at a more exact number.

"We hope that these estimates and their significant magnitude raise public awareness and increase the level of appreciation for the important global role of spiders in terrestrial food webs," Nyffeler says.

The study suggests spiders dwelling in forests and grasslands "account for more than 95 percent of the annual prey kill of the global spider community." Advantage: country spiders.

The majority of the spiders' prey consists of insects and collembola, which are insect-like creatures also known as springtails. As we know, some spiders also dine on unusual snacks like snakes and even birds.

The study should give spider-wary people a good reason to save the arachnids: they eat a whole lot of pests.

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