Spider eating opossum: Tarantula drags, eats opossum in Amazon rainforest

A tarantula preying on a mouse opossum

A new study has found that invertebrates like spiders and centipedes eat an unexpectedly large number of vertebrates like frogs, snakes, and even a small opossum, in the Amazon.

A morbid film and images of the encounter were captured by a team of University of MI researchers, who documented 15 rare and disturbing predator-prey interactions in the Amazon rainforest.

Though it's not unusual to see one of these large spiders in the rainforest, Grundler says they're usually spied eating smaller prey, such as a frog or cicada.

The tarantula, belonging to the genus Pamphobeteus, was about the size of a dinner plate (legs included); the mouse opossum, of the Marmosops genus, was a juvenile about the size of a softball. The opossum was still struggling weakly even with the tarantula grasping its neck then, but it eventually stopped kicking after about 30 seconds.

The team published a journal article this week summarizing its findings.

"This is an underappreciated source of mortality among vertebrates", said University of MI evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky.

"The most common interaction we see is spiders eating other invertebrate prey such as crickets and moths", von May said. The study authors described 15 interactions captured in night surveys that took place during expeditions to southeastern Peru's Madre de Dios region in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2017, according to the study.

"Our knowledge of these interactions remains limited". To do this, they carried out night surveys by walking through the forest with flashlights and headlamps and scanning the foliage for signs of activity.

The Amazon rainforest is home to many terrifying creatures, not the least of which are huge tarantulas the size of dinner plates.

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

Michael Grundler, a University of MI doctoral candidate, said he and other students heard rustling in the leaves.

Researchers spotted a tarantula preying on a mouse opossum in the Amazon rainforest.

A giant tarantula has been filmed dragging a young opossum away to its death in what is thought to be the first ever documentation of a spider preying on these small marsupials.

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", Grundler said.

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. 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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