How do scientists trap spiders in farm fields without hurting them? In Oklahoma, ARS entomologist Matthew Greenstone, his assistant Brian Jones, at right, and other researchers have used giant--but gentle--vacuum cleaners. Then the scientists figure out what little critters a spider has been eating.
One way to do this might be to dissect the spider (cut it open), but they'd see only a gooey mess! So, Greenstone, pictured below, and others created a special chemical test. It can identify a prey's remains in a predator's gut. You might call this a "gut reaction."
In a Georgia cotton field, scientists using the test found that one type of spider really likes to eat the eggs of two insects that attack the cotton plants.
Recently, they surveyed wheat and other grain crops in Colorado, looking for spiders that kill aphids, which are major pests of these crops.
When scientists find a spider species with an appetite for a particular pest, they can investigate whether these spiders might eat enough pests to help a farmer. Scientists also want to find ways that farmers can make their fields more inviting to the spiders.