'This is the stuff of nightmares'

Tropical Spiders Cause'Surprising Amount of Death' Hunting Opossums Frogs and More

The video was recently shared by the University of MI, and it contains a sight no arachnophobe wants to see - a young possum completely covered by a huge, hairy tarantula, which was spotted easily dragging it back to its den.

The researchers published their observations in the February issue of the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation journal (PDF link).

"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. "A surprising amount of death of small vertebrates in the Amazon is likely due to arthropods such as big spiders and centipedes".

"The most common interaction we see is spiders eating other invertebrate prey such as crickets and moths", von May said. "We looked over and we saw the tarantula on top of the opossum, and we just sort of sat and watched that observation until the tarantula got exhausted of us and walked away".

Like most of the keep-you-up-at-night images, video of the dinner-plate-sized tarantula dragging the softball-size mouse opossum was captured during one of the team's nighttime surveys.

Maggie Grundler, Michael's sister, pulled out her cellphone and started shooting video of the encounter.

Evidently, what they captured was the first documentation of a mygalomorph spider preying on an opossum, as confirmed by an experts from the American Museum of Natural History. They documented Amazonian arthropod predators preying on frogs, lizards and snakes, in addition to the startling possum example. "And we looked over and we saw the tarantula on top of the possum".

"We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn't really believe what we were seeing", said Grundler.

A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preys on a subadult Cercosaura eigenmanni lizard in the Amazon rainforest.

"It may seem like everything is killing each other, but at least there is this one case in which frogs have figured out how to live with a spider". 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. "Walking on the African savanna at night with lions about is much scarier!"

While spiders are among the most diverse predators in the tropics, knowledge of such interactions has been limited.

Arachnologist Rick West said tarantulas typically prey on frogs, but added: "They are opportunistic feeders and they'll take whatever they can subdue".

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