Scientists Record Massive Tarantula Dragging Opossum Through Jungle

Christopher Davidson
March 2, 2019

The article titled "Ecological interactions between arthropods and small vertebrates in a lowland Amazon rainforest" documents 15 cases of arthropods - mainly large spiders and centipedes - preying on vertebrates like small frogs, snakes and lizards.

University of MI researchers studying "predator-prey interactions in the Amazon rainforest" caught a giant tarantula dragging an opossum, presumably on its way to make a meal of it.

Photos taken by the researchers documented multiple species of spiders and other arthropods (a group that includes spiders, insects and crustaceans) - such as a giant water bug and several centipede species - as they sank their mandibles deep into their prey.

The tarantula was the size of a dinner plate, and the young mouse opossum was about the size of a softball, according to a university statement.

"We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn't really believe what we were seeing", Michael Grundler, a PhD student and contributing author, said in a statement.

A journal article that highlights the scary observation was published in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation.

"Invertebrates preying on vertebrates is common, but it's generally not assumed to be an important source of mortality for amphibians and reptiles", says study leader Rudolf von May, a biologist at the University of MI.

Most of the expeditions in the forest were at night, when the predators are more active. In the video above, doctoral candidate Mike Grundler describes the tarantula as "about the size of a dinner plate" and says that seeing the spider eating a mammal was "very unexpected".

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The team also collected the bodies of two snakes that succumbed to centipedes, including a venomous coral snake. "When we do surveys at night, some of the spiders we see will have prey, typically other invertebrates like crickets and moths".

"We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn't really believe what we were seeing", Grundler said in the MI release. But knowledge of these interactions remains limited.

A team of researchers traveled to the Madre De Dios region of the Amazon rainforest in southeastern Peru to survey predator-prey relationships in the Amazon rainforest.

A news release from the university about the research project noted that "this is the stuff of nightmares".

It marked the first time biologists found proof "of a large mygalomorph spider preying on an opossum", the university's press release said.

A tarantula snacks on a Bolivian bleating frog.

"We knew we were witnessing something pretty special, but we weren't aware it was the first observation until after the fact". "[These events] provide insights into an important source of vertebrate mortality that appears to be less common outside the tropics", he said.

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