In the nightfall of the Amazon rainforest, a team of biologists “heard some scrabbling in the leaf litter.” They shined their headlamps in the direction of the unrest and spotlighted – much to their surprise, horror, and perhaps perverse joy – a tarantula the size of a dinner plate dragging a young opossum across the forest floor. The team believes this may the first time such an event has been recorded.
“The opossum had already been grasped by the tarantula and was still struggling weakly at that point, but after about 30 seconds it stopped kicking,” said University of Michigan (UM) doctoral candidate Michael Grundler in a statement.
“We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn’t really believe what we were seeing. We knew we were witnessing something pretty special, but we weren’t aware that it was the first observation until after the fact.”
The recording of such an eerie yet oh-so-natural feast was not for sadistic pleasure. It was part of a larger project to document predator-prey interactions in the Amazon rainforest.
“These events offer a snapshot of the many connections that shape food webs,” said the study’s first author, Rudolf von May, a postdoctoral researcher. The study is published in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation.
The UM-led team were on a month-long expedition near the Andes foothills in the lowland Amazon rainforest. This research has been going on for many years now, so the team finally decided they had enough observations to publish the photographs they had taken of spiders feasting on a variety of rainforest morsels.
“A surprising amount of death of small vertebrates in the Amazon is likely due to arthropods such as big spiders and centipedes,” said University of Michigan evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky.
“Where we do this research there are about 85 species of amphibians – mostly frogs and toads – and about 90 species of reptiles,” von May said. “And considering that there are hundreds of invertebrates that potentially prey upon vertebrates, the number of possible interactions between species is huge, and we are highlighting that fact in this paper.”
So, without further ado, here are some of the macabre yet incredible images of mother nature at its eight-legged finest.