Video of a large tarantula dragging off a small opossum is a little gruesome, but it also provides new insight into the lives of animals in the Amazon rainforest.
A team of researchers led by University of Michigan biologists found some surprising things about the diets of large spiders and centipedes in the Amazon, according to a news release from the university.
Namely, that those creatures are eating more small vertebrates, like frogs, lizards and snakes, than previously thought.
“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 associate professor Daniel Rabosky in the release.
And the small-vertebrate menu the scientists observed included at least one opossum. The misfortunate mammal was a white-bellied slender opossum, a kind of mouse opossum significantly smaller than the Virginia opossum commonly seen in parts of the United States.
In the video above, doctoral candidate Mike Grundler describes the tarantula as “about the size of a dinner plate” and says that seeing the spider eating a mammal was “very unexpected.” The footage of a spider carrying the opossum off begins at about the 11-second mark.
Researchers came across the scene after hearing “sounds of struggle,” Rabosky said in an email to HuffPost. By that point, it was too late for the opossum.
“When they looked, they saw the tarantula moving away with the opossum, which was still kicking weakly,” he said. “Presumably, the spider’s venom took a minute or so to fully immobilize the mammal.”
And while many people are more or less horrified by the video (the university’s own news release calls it “the stuff of nightmares”), Rabosky had a slightly different perspective.
“On one level, I understand why people find this freaky ― we generally fear things that we don’t understand, and spiders & centipedes fall squarely into that category,” he wrote in the email. “But it is a special human bias that leads us to think that this is somehow freakier than many other ways of dying: there is nothing pretty about most predation, whether it is coming from lions or peregrine falcons or crocodiles or anything else.”
He also noted that, just like a bird or a jaguar, spiders have to eat, too.
Instead of abject horror, he said, the team’s findings left him with more of a “deep sense of wonder” over “how complex nature is,” noting that there are still many facets humans don’t understand at all.
And that’s way scarier than a tarantula chomping down on an opossum.
“We are influencing the planet at a very fast rate, turning vast tracts of rainforest into soybean farms and altering even ‘untouched’ rainforest with the invisible hand of climate change,” he said. “Yet we still don’t understand even the most basic things about animals (and plants!) in tropical rainforests like this.”
You can read the researchers’ full paper, published last month in the journal Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, here.
CLARIFICATION: Language has been added to clarify that the opossum in the video is a mouse opossum.