Tarantulas are capable of eating pretty much anything — but until now one had never been caught feasting on a snake in the wild.
The unusual sight was spotted by graduate student Leandro Malta Borges and colleagues from the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil. They were searching for rare types of wildlife when they came across a female adult member of the South American tarantula species Grammostola quirogai feasting on the innards of a foot-long ground snake. This is the first time such an event has been seen in the wild, the researchers say.
Other large tarantulas — such as the Goliath birdeater and other individuals from the genus Grammostola — have previously been recorded eating snakes, but only in captivity and when encouraged to do so. Widow spiders, like the Australian redback, also prey on snakes, but they use their webs to help them capture prey and their strong venom to break down the food.
In the grasslands of Serra do Caverá, where this took place, tarantulas tend to hide beneath rocks and small shaded crannies, rarely venturing out. The researchers theorized the snake may have wandered into the spider’s lair, leading to a surprise encounter. While it’s not clear exactly how the snake died, they believe the tarantula subdued its victim using its muscular 0.8-inch fangs and then mauled through its flesh to pull out the innards.
By the time Borges and his team happened upon the scene, the snake was partially decomposed in some parts. Tarantulas are only capable of digesting liquefied tissue, which means the solid snake parts have to be adequately crushed and ground down before being turned into goo thanks to the spider’s toxic digestive enzymes.
The account was officially documented on December 3rd in the journal Herpetology Notes.