Abstract The distinctions between a predator's diet, its prey-choice behaviour and its preference are illustrated in a study of Aelurillus m-nigrum Kulczyn'ski, a salticid spider from Azerbaijan. The natural diet of A. m-nigrum was determined from records of individuals feeding in the field ( N = 58). Ten arthropod orders were represented. Nine were from the class Insecta (Coleoptera, Collembola, Diptera, Heteroptera, Homoptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, Psocoptera) and one from the class Arachnida (Araneae). Of 50 insects among the prey, 21 (42%) were Hymenoptera, with ants (family Formicidae) alone accounting for 31% of all prey records. Although the majority (69%) of the natural prey were not ants, results from prey-choice testing in the laboratory implied that A. m-nigrum preferred ants as prey. However, this preference was evident only when the testing environment included sand and a small stone. Our findings illustrate the importance of not conflating the concept of a predator's preference with the concept of a predator's natural diet and illustrate that physical features of a predator's habitat may be an important factor in influencing how strongly preference is expressed.