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But Dr. Klaus Birkhofer of Lund University and Dr. Martin Nyffeler from the University of Basel have now used calculations to conclude that spiders indeed have an enormous ecological impact as natural enemies of insects.

Each year spiders eat an estimated 400 to 800 million metric tons of insects. Greater than 90 percent of that prey is insects and springtails (Collembola).

The study's conclusion contrasts interestingly with data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) that shows the global human population eats around 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.

I can't even conceive of what a single pound of spiders would look like, let alone 25 million metric tons of them.

Whales in the world's oceans eat an estimated 280-500 million tonnes of prey a year.

"Spiders thus make an essential contribution to maintaining the ecological balance of nature".

New research which discovered the whopping figure also revealed that most of the victims are insects - but larger tropical species can occasionally make a meal of vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, fish and small mammals, said experts.

Spiders, in turn, serve as an important prey population.

Spiders are found everywhere from the Arctic to the most arid of deserts, in caves, on ocean shores, sand dunes and flood plains, the study authors said.

Just repeating that in case you passed out or anything: there's about 25 million tonnes of spiders somewhere in the world outside your house, folks (although, to be fair, some are inside it too). The second approach was based on prey capture observations in the field, combined with estimates of spider numbers per square meter.

This showed just how big a role spiders play in keeping pests and disease-carriers at bay - especially in forests and grasslands where majority live. Spiders are also an important source of food for 8,000 species of birds, parasites and other predators.

"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".

The findings were discussed in The Science of Nature journal.