"A surprising amount of death of small vertebrates in the Amazon is likely due to anthropods such as big spiders and centipedes".
It was nearly midnight in the Peruvian Amazon when scientists from the University of MI heard a scratching noise in the leaves and saw a dinner plate-sized tarantula dragging a opossum along the forest floor. The work involved documenting "rare and disturbing" sightings of spiders and centipedes eating frogs, lizards and snakes.
The scientists also recorded the first evidence of a tarantula clutching one particularly unexpected victim: a young mouse opossum (Marmosops noctivagus) that was about the same size as the spider, a species in the Pamphobeteus genus.
You can read the researchers' full paper, published last month in the journal Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, here.
Rabosky said they had discovered an "underappreciated source of mortality among vertebrates" in the rainforest.
"Predation of small vertebrates by arthropods has been documented in several lowland rainforest sites, yet our knowledge of these interactions remains limited, especially given the diversity of vertebrate prey and potential arthropod predators in species-rich tropical communities", the researchers explained in their paper. Many predators relied on paralyzing venom to trap their meal, while others used their large jaws to their advantage.
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Tarantulas don't typically feed on opossum, according to arachnologist Rick West, who wasn't a member of the research team. "To see one taken down by an arthropod was very surprising".
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.
Researchers captured video and photographs of battles between predators and prey in the rainforest.
Grundler went on: "We couldn't really believe what we were seeing".
In footage posted to YouTube by the university, researcher Mike Grundler, a PhD candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the school, describes the encounter with the nightmare-inducing spider.
Considering this diversity and the sheer number of invertebrates in the Amazon, the potential for interactions between species is staggering. "[These events] provide insights into an important source of vertebrate mortality that appears to be less common outside the tropics", he said.
A tarantula preying on a Bolivian bleating frog. 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.