Giant Spiders Will Hunt You at Night if They Think You're a Frog

Tired of the news cycle? Here are giant spiders of the Amazon enjoying baby possums and lizards too, courtesy of the University of Michigan

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A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a Bolivian bleating frog (Hamptophryne boliviana).
A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a Bolivian bleating frog (Hamptophryne boliviana).Credit: Maria Isabel Diaz, in Amphibian & Reptile Conservation
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Hereditary arachnophobia makes evolutionary sense. Many spiders are venomous, some lethally so. People who experience atavistic horror at the sight of a spider are more likely to procreate than people who scorn the arthropod, because the fearful are more likely to live and have kiddies, while the brave and stupid are more likely to die of spider bite. It's Darwinism. So if the images of giant spiders eating frogs, snakes and baby animals, graciously provided by the University of Michigan, make you want to curl up and whimper, take comfort in the thought that you probably hail from hardy stock after all.

Spiders in the AmazonCredit: University of Michigan

So: a team of biologists from the University of Michigan went to the Peruvian rainforest lowlands and have shared what they themselves call "rare and disturbing predator-prey interactions" including a giant tarantula the size of a dinner plate dragging a young opossum across the forest floor.

In fact the scientists seem to have been taken aback at just how many small animals these spiders eat in the Amazon, they write in the journal of Amphibian & Reptile Conservation. "This" - giant spiders - "is an underappreciated source of mortality among vertebrates," commented University of Michigan evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky. 

A wandering spider (genus Ancylometes) in the lowland Amazon rainforest preying on a tree frog (Dendropsophus leali).
A wandering spider (genus Ancylometes) in the lowland Amazon rainforest preying on a tree frog (Dendropsophus leali).Credit: Emanuele Biggi / Amphibian & Reptile Conservation

Feeling queasy? Take comfort: the spiders hunt mostly at night, and they won't drop onto your face from the ceiling as you sleep unless they think you're a frog or baby bird. Just how did the scientists spot the spiders in the dark?  They had flashlights, but mainly, they "heard some scrabbling in the leaf litter," describes doctoral candidate Michael Grundler. That was the opossum and it was still alive, though not for long. Feel better now?

A tarantula  (genus Pamphobeteus)  preying on a mouse opossum (genus Marmosops).
A tarantula (genus Pamphobeteus) preying on a mouse opossum (genus Marmosops). Credit: Maggie Grundler / Amphibian & Reptile Conservation
A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a subadult Cercosaura eigenmanni lizard.
A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a subadult Cercosaura eigenmanni lizard. Credit: Mark Cowan / Amphibian & Reptile Conservation
A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a frog (Leptodactylus didymus).
A wandering spider (Ctenidae) preying on a frog (Leptodactylus didymus). Credit: Pascal Title / Amphibian & Reptile Conservation

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