Flesh-eating spider numbers are on the rise, experts admit.
Flesh eating spiders? Yes. This is not make-believe.
It turns out that flesh-eating spiders can be found on every continent except for Antarctica, occur in dozens of species, and researchers explain that the flesh-eating spiders exhibit true predation — that is they are actively hunting and seeking out living flesh — not just demonstrating opportunistic scavenging.
“Predation requires that a prey item must have been killed and eaten by the predator.” In this case, the predator they’re speaking of is the dozens of species of flesh-eating spiders around the world. “Both behavioral traits – killing and consumption – have been witnessed many times by a larger number of researchers in the wild and in captivity. These spiders possess large strong chelicerae (pincer-like claws) capable of piercing the skin of vertebrates and are equipped with powerful venoms containing hundreds of different neurotoxins, some of which are specific to vertebrate nervous systems,” stated a report in i09. “The vast majority of fish are bitten by the spiders at the base of the head.”
Wait a minute. Fish? So the flesh the spiders are eating isn’t human flesh? That’s a relief.
“A fish must always first be dragged by the flesh-eating spider to a dry place before the feeding process can begin,” the report continued. “Such a dry feeding site can be a rock, tree trunk, halfway immersed log, or an aquatic plant emerging from the water.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland admitted to being surprised by the large number of spider species discovered that actually eat flesh. Nyffeler has been studying spiders for more than a decade. (Last year, he published a paper describing 50 incidents of flesh-eating spiders devouring bats!) It wasn’t the fact that flesh-eating spiders eat fish that stunned Nyffeler, rather it was how many spiders actually do it.
“I was very surprised that fish-catching behavior is so widespread geographically and taxonomically across several spider families,” Nyffeler said.
More than half of the incidents of flesh-eating spiders catching and eating fish cited in Nyffeler’s research occurred in the United States. Most of them occurred in the South, especially in the Southeast (in places like Florida), but there were eight incidents recorded in California as well. May incidents of flesh-eating spiders consuming fish were numerous in South America and Australia as well, but comparatively few took place in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
The fish captured and killed by the flesh-eating spiders are generally between 0.8 and 2 inches in length, and on average, 2.2 times bigger than the flesh-eating spider.
So, how does a flesh-eating spider eat a fish twice its size? It drags the fish to a dry spot, pumps a digestive enzyme into the victim’s body, and then sucks the dissolved tissue through its mouth opening.
Next time you see a spider hanging out at the edge of a pond or stream, take a minute to watch. Who knows, you might be watching a real-life flesh-eating spider.