Gargantuan tarantula drags opossum along rainforest floor

Biologists from the University of MI released photos showing large spiders in the Amazon rain forest preying on a number of other creatures, including frogs, lizards, snakes and even a small opossum. But it looks like the extent that spiders take down larger prey may have been underestimated, even though the majority of their diet does consist of bugs.

"We were just walking the trails, walking along slowly, and we heard a scrabbling in the leaf litter", he says in the video. A five-minute struggle ensued, where the opossum, roughly the size of a softball, tried to kick away from the eight-legged insect.

Grundler was one of the students who saw the encounter and his sister Maggie Grundler captured the video on her phone.

For more information on the study, you can read the full summary from the journal Amphibian & Reptile Conservation.

A tarantula the size of a dinner plate dragging around a young mouse opossum.

They published other gruesome images of spiders with unusual prey.

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A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a subadult Cercosaura eigenmanni lizard. Talking about the scene was University of MI evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky, who said, "This is an underappreciated source of mortality among vertebrates". "A surprising amount of death of small vertebrates in the Amazon is likely due to arthropods such as big spiders and centipedes", he said.

A tarantula snacks on a Bolivian bleating frog.

Arthropods are invertebrates with segmented bodies and jointed limbs and appendages: the animal world equivalent of wearing jointed suits of armor.

The study "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, snakes, and even a small opossum".

"We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn't really believe what we were seeing", Grundler said. "But it is a special human bias that leads us to think that this is somehow freakier than many other ways of dying: there is nothing pretty about most predation, whether it is coming from lions or peregrine falcons or crocodiles or anything else". The team observed the surprisingly friendly relationship one species of Pamphobeteus tarantula has with one - and just one - genus of frog, a relative of the dotted humming frog.

"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 study first author Rudolf von May. They have been recorded eating all major vertebrate groups: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

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