Rescuing insects from spider webs

Among the different types of insects I’ve encountered, different groups seem to let me handle them more than others. Moths seem to be the most cooperative, which is wonderful for me since I tend to enjoy their company the most anyway. Last night I held my finger out for one to crawl on but it wasn’t interested and tried to fly away, though the poor thing didn’t make it very far before landing in a nearby spiderweb. Because the spider wasn’t around anyway, I went over and got it out of the web, after which it hung out on my finger for a short while. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing a bit here but it almost seemed to say “Maybe you aren’t so bad after all.”

This got me wondering though: how does everyone here feel about saving insects from spider webs? Have you ever done so yourself?


I’ll rescue things from spiderwebs if the web is obviously abandoned and in disrepair - there’s no spider around to benefit from it, so I figure there’s no harm in doing so!


I rescued the weevil Lepidonotaris petax from what looked like a remnant of a spider-web a few days ago. It (the web) was obviously loose, broken, and no spider was around, but the weevil still managed to get stuck in there. I used a stick and quickly got the little insect out. The photo you see in this observation is the weevil after being rescued
I think it’s ok to do if the web is broken and not being used, but I wouldn’t steal dinner from a spider otherwise.
Also: fun story, I was in the forest near a stream once and I saw a drain fly flying around. It got into a spider web and the spider already ran out and almost grasped its prey, but the drain fly struggled and somehow quickly got out by itself. Wasn’t a very good web, I suppose…


Im a not a fan of rescuing insects from spider web or other prey from their predators. The latter need to make their living as well and with human interferance it might be that their chances of survival and successful reproduction are dimished… how is that fair at all?

I used to work in an wild animal rescue and I heared the wildes stories that really made me wonder…

For example two ladies approached us with a small bird that turned out to be something pretty special (one and only time I saw one actually: Jynx torquilla so we were pretty excited. But then they started talking about how they got into possession of it, which actually made me more and more angry…
They explained how they observed a bird of prey attacking the small bird and how they started screaming and throwing rocks at the attacker to save it. They were pretty proud that they even managed to hit the bird of prey and it then finally let go of it´s victim. … I mean… why? Would they have acted the same if they would have known the bird of prey has to feed chicks of it´s own? Or that a lot of those chicks die a pretty gruesome death if there is not enough food? … if maybe one of it´s parents can´t hunt propperly anymore because it was hit by a stone?.. btw. the small bird did not survive it´s injuries anyways… so lose lose for all :-/

For many spiders their web is precious and they have to invest quite some resources to produce it. For example, many Araneidae eat their old web before producing a new one to be able to save on their resources. They often have to produce a new web when prey got entangled in it, so they have to use some of the resources they got from the prey for their new capture web… if the prey is lost, producing a new web is even more expensive for them. Besides that, during web production the spiders are especially vulnurable to become prey or hosts for parasites themselfs. So interfering put´s the spider in a lot of risks.

… Yes, one can say - it is only a spider. But one could also say it´s only a moth or beetle actually. And I think it´s about a matter of principle. Why interfering into these kind of things that are a natural circle of life? Why determining that some creatures are more worth saving then others? Just let them do their thing.


It is certainly a controversial opinion but I think, in general, we should treat these situations as humans and not as ecologists tending to an Earth-sized preserve or something. Not everything is about biodiversity and ecosystems, some things are about plain emotions and morality.

I think we aren’t under any moral obligation to help prey that is being predated. However, I do think it is typically a commendable deed, even if the consequences of everyone doing it as a full-time job would be disastrous (but no one is doing it more than a few times in their lives, I imagine).

For that individual insect or gazelle or bird, it matters. You can sing them a sweet requiem as they die about the circle of life, but what they care about now is their own suffering, not these highfalutin concepts. If they were a human, would we feel the same? Would we say “hey, sorry bud, lions gotta eat!” (We are natural prey for lions after all, and have been for as long as we’ve existed)

Not advocating doing this a lot, I don’t personally, but it is okay to feel empathy and I would never look down on someone for helping out a little fellow animal. I have only rescued one animal from a web that I can recall (a small Temnothorax ant). The web wasn’t abandoned but there were plenty of spiders in that area and literally hundreds of dead insect bodies, I doubt they went hungry.


In general I try not to intervene with nature as a default. Although if you know the meal is much more rare than the predator, I could see there being merit there.


If it’s an old web that is not being used, I don’t see any harm, but may not bother if it is something small that I probably couldn’t help without accidentally squishing or something that might sting me. I have rescued dragonflies and damselflies I know but don’t have any observations for them (might have photos somewhere on my computer). Here is a fly that I rescued: There may have been other things that I don’t recall.

Edit: On at least one occasion with a dragonfly or damselfly it had escaped from a web but had trouble flying due to still having pieces of web stuck to it.


On a somewhat related note, I have on multiple occasions rescued birds from spider webs!
(If you’re concerned about the interference, there was absolutely no way the spiders in question would have been able to eat a bird, so it would have just resulted in a slow unpleasant death for the bird and a ruined web for the spider).

Here’s a goldfinch that was stuck in abandoned web - I don’t know what kind of spider made the web, but I ended up having to use my pocketknife to cut off the twisted-up strands, I couldn’t break them with my fingers:

Usually it’s hummingbirds that get stuck, so I was surprised to find a larger bird like a goldfinch.


For that lioness that might have had a well needed hunting success to feed her young it matters just as much if you interfere… you might just have caused the death of of those cups… what about the empathy for them? I don´t think it´s healthy to view nature from those seemingly high grounds of human morale. This kind of thinking has already caused a lot of problems in the past when nature is divided in good and bad, useful creatures and pests…

By the way…
A lot of predators are actually not that successful and preventing them from a successful hunt might cause a hughe problem for them, especially if we talk about active hunters that use a lot of energy for their hunts…

I recommend for example this paper to get an idea about this… many species (including lions) have a success rate of about 20% or even less…

Vermeij, G. J. (1982). Unsuccessful Predation and Evolution. The American Naturalist, 120(6), 701–720. doi:10.1086/284025


I pulled a ringneck snake out of an old spiderweb yesterday. Looked like it got its head stuck in an egg sac after eating the eggs.

What can I say? I like ringnecks and don’t like the things they eat as much. :)


Again I would ask what we would do in this scenario where a human or a pet or something is involved. Will you allow a mountain lion to eat your dog? They may not have had a meal in weeks. I suppose we would make exceptions in those cases, but on what basis, exactly?

But really I am not at all advocating that people do this. My comment is more about defending the people who do it than wishing there were more people who did. The lion may have cubs on the brink of starvation, or may not. That gazelle will certainly die though. I think people having that instinct, to defend victims, is a beautiful thing and it is sad to see people trying to stamp it out and replace it with a cold, quasi-scientific pseudoreligion where nature is a cruel mistress whose induced suffering we should just accept as necessary and even beautiful, it reminds me of the “facts over feelings” people who don’t seem to realize their “facts” are loaded with “feelings” and that it isn’t somehow more logical to be more cruel.

I agree with the sentiment in not viewing nature from a “human moral high ground” but I reach a totally different conclusion. I think we in fact make this error when we tell ourselves not to involve ourselves in nature (as if we have a choice! We are part of nature!) unless we follow a set of arbitrary prescriptions. We should not view ourselves as entirely disconnected from nature.

In fact, any prescription we place, including not to intervene in nature in order to preserve the “natural order” or “biodiversity”, is us applying our “moral high ground” to nature, not a single ounce less than individual interventions to rescue animals. We only do this because we, personally, care to be able to enjoy a biodiverse and “ecologically pure” world, not because it is innately good or minimizes collective suffering. How is it any worse for someone’s personal preference or allegiance to be towards individual suffering rather than broader ostensible ecological considerations? It is always subjective which considerations we choose to place value on, nature isn’t descending from heaven to give us “the right answer”.

Anyhow, there is no moral obligation to help anyone. I am just saying it is also not transgressive, and in fact kind of encouraging, to see people intervene to reduce suffering, even if the larger picture is more complex.


I was bitten (well, pinched) by a large dragonfly that I pulled out from between a window and screen, and also by a stag beetle that had crash landed indoors ( Not enough to put me off from handling them - I am likely to remove anything big enough to make a fuss if it’s doing so right around house/tent, etc.

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I think we will not reach common ground here.

Since I feel a lot of emotionality between those assumptions that I really don’t see myself reflected in and that almost go a bit too far for my taste, I think it is better to let it go here.

I made my point and am happy to constructively discuss these things, but I don’t think labels like
“cold pseudoreligion” and other terms you used here help for a fruitful exchange of thoughts.

Anyways, wish you a great start into the week.

Edit: Just to be clear, no hard feelings here or something. I just don’t like those anonymous, emotionally loaded discussions on the internet anymore. I am here to have fun, learn and relax. Enough stressors out there in the real world🙂


i think you’re missing the point. If you kill all the predators, their previous prey have population explosions and starvation. Yeah in a sense it’s sad that life forms eat other life forms but unless you are going to direct a comet into earth to end all suffering like some video game or Marvel villain, helping prey is at best making yourself feel better over something that didn’t actually offer any net benefit. At worst you’re just arbitrarily choosing favorites. Would you shoot and kill an elephant to save an acacia tree? And no doubt the acacia tree is shading some grasses out or taking their water so really, you’d have to kill everything.


I think Kellert’s typology would be useful ITT to understand the perspectives involved in the ongoing disagreements.

(^Not that we’re all Americans. It’s just an example.)

I did not miss that point, I don’t think. I address it directly multiple times. I should also say first of all that I am only concerned with the suffering of sentient beings, so I am disregarding plants. I am also not really thinking consequentially, but more deontologically, and again, I am not actually advocating any action. I feel this last point is being overlooked severely. What I am saying is that such an action is not immoral or distasteful and if anything is a reflection of the better angels of our nature.

Why is killing a gazelle to feed a lion not the same as saving a gazelle from a lion (both “unnatural” interventions)? Because this equation is not symmetric. Lions require many gazelles to sustain themselves over their lifetimes. A gazelle only has one life to lose, contrarily. They cannot really be equated in a simple way. There is also an asymmetry between saving an animal from an attacking predator and causing that predator to be hungry for longer. The suffering avoided far exceeds the suffering induced, in most given cases and on average.

But the important point, again, is that I am not saying one ought to intervene in this way. There is no ultimate moral obligation. What I am saying is that interventions of this sort are not exactly immoral in any reasonable sense either, and that they come from a very sound moral place in a proximal, deontological sense. I find their immediate motivation to be commendable and not just unproblematic, but precisely antithetical to the real problems (apathy, etc).


The whole thing seems like a bit of an impossible trolley problem to me, and in the specific scope of insects in spiders web, likely not a huge deal either way in the scheme of things.

I wouldn’t intervene for the most part, but I think I have once or twice - likely more when I want to record the insect in question.

Spiders webs are an amazing solution to stilling an insect for photographic recording as they provide 360 visual access without killing them. I’ve often wondered how one could create a similarly non-destructive capture method for personal use in recording, instead of anaesthetising/killing a specimen.


This topic reminds me of a fun game :


A torn web or no obvious presence of a spider, does not necessarily indicate an abandoned web,


If a spider plans to eat something caught in their web, aren’t they usually quick to bite and start wrapping it? If it is too big to do this, would they wait on the sidelines for their own safety until the prey has exhausted itself or just abandon it entirely?