Tarantula preys on a mouse opossum, November 2016. Image: Maggie Grundler, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation
Tarantulas are often cast as creepy crawlers in scary movies, but it turns out they’re even more terrifying in the wild. Consider the following video, which captures a dinner plate-sized tarantula dragging an opossum baby and across the Amazon jungle floor:Filmed by scientists on the night of November 18, 2016, it’s the first time such an interaction between the two species has ever been caught on tape.
The footage is part of a study published Thursday in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation that documents 15 predator-prey encounters between small vertebrates and arthropod hunters—such as spiders and centipedes—in Peru’s lowland Amazon rainforest.“When we first encountered the pair, the opossum was still responsive and kicking weakly,” the authors, led by University of Michigan biologist Rudolf von May, said in the paper. “We observed the interaction for approximately five minutes after which time the opossum ceased all movement and the spider dragged it away around a tree root.”The tarantula belongs to the genus Pamphobeteus, and von May’s team said it was the size of a dinner plate. These spiders tend to hunt at night and use venom to paralyze their prey.
The team spent years cataloguing similar interactions between vertebrates and arthropods, and the new study contains many other images of arthropods preying on small vertebrates. Some examples include tarantulas feeding on frogs and lizards, a centipede eating a snake, and a bee eating tree frog eggs.
"[Spiders are] an underappreciated source of mortality among vertebrates," said study co-author Daniel Rabosky, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan, in a statement. "A surprising amount of death of small vertebrates in the Amazon is likely due to arthropods such as big spiders and centipedes."Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.