A dinner-plate-sized tarantula drag an opossum it just killed

02 March, 2019, 01:57 | Author: Kelly Sanders

Every interaction was brutal (in its own way), but none was perhaps as vicious as the late-night slaughter of a mouse opossum by a tarantula (theraphosid spider).

"For our group it's actually the most awesome thing".

Von May and fellow biologists studied the behaviour of the predators and their prey over one night in Peru's lowland tropical rainforests, believed to be one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth.

In addition to the opossum, the article details instances of arthropod predators - mostly large spiders along with a few centipedes and a giant water bug - preying on vertebrates such as frogs and tadpoles, lizards and snakes, a statement from the university said.

"This is an under-appreciated source of mortality among vertebrates", said evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky. In that region, there are around 85 amphibian species and 90 reptiles.

Considering this diversity and the sheer number of invertebrates in the Amazon, the potential for interactions between species is staggering.

But one occasion really stands out.


"We looked over and we saw a large tarantula on top of an opossum", said Michael Grundler, a co-author of the paper.

The terrifying video recorded during the Peruvian night survey caught a monster spider dragging away and making a meal of an opossum.

Upon reviewing footage of the rare occurrence, Robert Voss, a mammologist at the American Museum of Natural History confirmed that it appeared to be the first-ever documentation of "a large mygalomorph spider [tarantula] preying upon opossums", National Geographic reports.

A MI news release said that an opossum expert at the American Museum of Natural History confirmed the researchers had "captured the first documentation of a large mygalomorph spider preying on an opossum".

"We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn't really believe what we were seeing", said Grundler. According to researchers, while they knew that what they were witnessing was special, at the moment they were unaware that it was the first observation. While the tarantula in the genus Pamphobeteus will usually jump at the chance to eat a frog, it allows individuals of one species, the dotted humming frog (Chiasmocleis royi), to share its underground burrow.

The relationship between several species of tarantula and the dotted humming frog has been well documented, and it's possible that it's of mutual benefit - the frog gets leftovers and protection from the spider, and in return eats the ants that prey on the spider's eggs. Some of the tarantulas had fly larvae crawling on their bodies, which the team suggests might mean the frogs also help control parasites in the shared burrows.

Rick West, an independent arachnologist and tarantula expert not involved with the study, notes by email that "tarantula predation on vertebrates is not a common thing, but it does happen".

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