ARACHNOPHOBES, look away now: a series of terrifying photos showing giant spiders devouring their prey have been revealed.
A team of biologists ventured deep into the Amazon rainforest to snap the eight-legged critters during dinnertime – and caught spiders chomping on frogs, lizards and mice.
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation A tarantula (genus Pamphobeteus) preying on a mouse opossum (genus Marmosops
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a subadult Cercosaura eigenmanni lizard
One photo even shows a “dinner plate-sized” tarantula dragging an opossum across the forest floor.
The snaps were captured by biologists from the University of Michigan, and published in the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation journal.
Researchers aimed to capture interactions between arthropods (segmented invertebrates like spiders and scorpions) and small vertebrates.
And during the expedition, plenty of gruesome spider feasting sessions were caught on camera.
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a frog (Leptodactylus didymus)
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation A tarantula preying on a Bolivian bleating frog (Hamptophryne boliviana)
“This is an underappreciated source of mortality among vertebrates,” said Daniel Rabosky, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan.
“A surprising amount of death of small vertebrates in the Amazon is likely due to arthropods such as big spiders and centipedes.”
Once or twice a year, Rabosky leads a team of researchers down to the remote Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru.
This site, which sits near the Andes foothills in the lowland Amazon rainforest, is described as “one of the diverse ecosystems on the planet”.
And over the years, the researchers have captured a selection of images of spiders eating their prey.
“We kept recording these events, and at some point we realized that we had enough observations to put them together in a paper,” Rabosky explained.
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation A fishing spider (genus Thaumasia) preying on a tadpole in a pond
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation A wandering spider (genus Ancylometes) in the lowland Amazon rainforest preying on a tree frog (Dendropsophus leali)
Spiders are one of the most diverse arthropod predators in the tropics, with a wide variety of prey.
The creepy crawlies have been known to feast on fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and even small mammals.
But there’s only limited research into how the predatory process takes place.
“These events offer a snapshot of the many connections that shape food webs, and they provide insights into an important source of vertebrate mortality that appears to be less common outside the tropics,” said the study’s first author, Rudolf von May, a postdoctoral researcher.
“Where we do this research there are about 85 species of amphibians–mostly frogs and toads–and about 90 species of reptiles,” von May said.
“And considering that there are hundreds of invertebrates that potentially prey upon vertebrates, the number of possible interactions between species is huge, and we are highlighting that fact in this paper.”
Amphibian & Reptile Conservation A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a Bolivian bleating frog (Hamptophryne boliviana)
Nearly all of the sightings were made at night, when spiders are most active.
During the nighttime surveys, researchers would walk slowly through the forest with torches and headlamps in single file.
They scanned the forest floor and listened out for wildlife activity.
And during one of these nighttime walks, doctoral candidate Michael Grunder “heard some scrabbling in the leaf litter”.
“We looked over and we saw a large tarantula on top of an opossum,” said Grundler, who co-authored the paper.
“The opossum had already been grasped by the tarantula and was still struggling weakly at that point, but after about 30 seconds it stopped kicking.”
The tarantula, which was the “size of a dinner plate”, was snacking on a young mouse opossum roughly the size of a tennis ball.
The tarantula was the size of a dinner plate, and the young mouse opossum was about the size of a softball.
“We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn’t really believe what we were seeing,” Grundler said.
“We knew we were witnessing something pretty special, but we weren’t aware that it was the first observation until after the fact.”
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This was later confirmed to be the first documentation of a large mygalomorph spider preying on an opossum.
These types of spiders are heavy-bodied, stout-legged types – and include tarantulas.
“One of the coolest things about working in Peru is the sheer number of species that you encounter every day simply by walking in the forest,” said study co-author Joanna Larson.
“Every day you see something new and exciting.
“One offshoot of the work that we’ve been doing is this collection of odd natural history events we’ve witnessed involving arthropod predators and vertebrates.
“I have not reached the level of being grossed out by any of it yet. We’ll see what else Peru has to offer.”
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Does this put you off ever visiting the rainforest? Let us know in the comments!
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