Consequences of prey exoskeleton content for predator feeding and digestion: black widow predation on larval versus adult mealworm beetles

Cody L. Barnes*, Dror Hawlena, Marshall D. McCue, Shawn M. Wilder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Predators often feed on a wide range of prey that can vary in behavior, morphology, and physiology. The net benefits that predators gain from prey are likely related to both prey nutrient content and prey morphology or defenses. For invertebrates, the exoskeleton is a morphological trait that varies widely among species and during ontogeny and could affect nutrient extraction by predators. The goal of this study was to determine how prey exoskeleton content affected predator nutrient intake, assimilation, and excretion by comparing spiders feeding on either larval or adult mealworms of similar size. We found that the proportion of prey energy invested in digestion was greatest in spiders consuming adult mealworm beetles which had higher amounts of exoskeleton than larvae. Further, spiders extracted a greater proportion of elements, macronutrients, and energy from the larval mealworms, which had lower amounts of exoskeleton. Interestingly, total nitrogen content of prey was not a predictor of nitrogen assimilation as spiders assimilated more nitrogen from the larval mealworms, which had lower total nitrogen content. While adult beetles had higher total nitrogen content, their discarded remains of prey had large amounts of nitrogen that was nutritionally unavailable for spiders (i.e., exoskeleton). These results suggest that prey exoskeleton can affect assimilation efficiency by predators, and that a combination of macronutrient and elemental analyses may be needed to examine the quality of prey for predators and the potential consequences of predation for nutrient flows (e.g., consumer assimilation, egestion, and excretion) in ecosystems.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 May 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Arthropods
  • Exoskeleton
  • Metabolic rate
  • Nutrition
  • Specific dynamic action


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