connectVideoHuge spider drag opossum about Amazon rainforest floor in horrific images
A plate-sized tarantula with a big appetite preyed on a young opossum during a recent hunt in the rainforest of the Amazon — and the horrifying encounter was caught on tape.
Biologists from the University of Michigan (U of M) studied rare predator-prey interactions, particularly between arthropods and small vertebrate animals, in the course of a few years in the lowland amazon rainforest lies near the foothills of the Andes. They detailed 15 different predation events in a paper published in “Amphibians & Reptiles Conservation” on Thursday.
“This is a neglected source of mortality among the vertebrate animals,” Daniel Rabosky, an evolutionary biologist at U M, who leads a team of researchers to the Amazon rainforest about one or two times per year, he said in an online statement. “A surprising amount of death of small vertebrates in the Amazon is likely due to arthropods, such as large spiders and centipedes.”
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The researchers of the Michigan captured footage and still images of a battle between the spiders, snakes, scorpions, ants, beetles, water bugs, among others. Many predators use on-paralyzing venom to catch their meal, while others with their large jaws in their favor.
A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preys on a younger Cercosaura eigenmanni lizard in the Amazon rainforest.
(Photo by Mark Cowan, Amphibians & Reptiles Conservation)
Each interaction was brutal (in its own way), but none was perhaps as false as the late-night slaying of a mouse opossum by a tarantula (theraphosid spider).
“The spider was on the ground in the leaf litter keep the opossum by the neck area,” the researchers described in the newspaper, noting that the opossum — about the size of a softball — was still alive when they saw the pair.
After about five minutes, the creature was motionless, and the spider dragged behind a tree root, disappear in the darkness.
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When reviewing images of the rare event, Robert Voss, a mammologist at the American Museum of Natural History confirmed that it appeared to be the first documentation of “a large mygalomorph spider [tarantula] aces on opossums,” National Geographic reports.
“We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we could actually not believe what we saw.”
— Michael Grundler
“Tarantula predation on vertebrate animals is not a common thing, but it happens. They are opportunistic eaters, and they take what they can subdue,” arachnologist Rick West, who is not a part of the research group, told the magazine, adding that they usually feed on frogs.
The news came as a nice surprise for the researchers.
“We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn’t really believe what we see,” Michael Grundler, D. Ph. student at U-M and contributing author, said in a statement. “We knew We were witnessing something very special, but we were not aware that it was the first sighting until after the fact.”
A wandering spider is depicted snacking on a younger Cercosaura eigenmanni lizard.
(Photo by Pascal Title, Amphibians & Reptiles Conservation)
During their expedition, the authors of the study had one goal in mind: to better understand the food chain and the “pressure” effect on the populations of small animals.
“Predation of small vertebrates by arthropods is documented in several lowland rainforest sites, yet our knowledge of this interaction remains limited, especially given the diversity of the vertebrate prey and potential arthropod predators in species-rich tropical communities,” the researchers explained in their paper. “[…] The documentation of predation by spiders and other arthropods in these ecosystems is essential, even if there are many predaceous arthropods remain undescribed and are usually classified as morphospecies, because they provide insight into an important source of vertebrate mortality that appears less frequently in the extra-tropical communities.”