Amazonian Spiders- University of Michigan Research

“A noiseless, patient spider,

I mark’d, where on a little promontory, it stood isolate

eating a possum….”


Okay, so that is not what the Walt Whitman poem really says.

That is, however, what was discovered by the University of Michigan research biologist, Daniel Rabosky, when he led a team of researchers to the Amazon on an annual expedition.

Deep in the jungle, during a  month-long expedition to the Los Amigos Biological Station in the remote Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru, the team studied reptiles and amphibians in the low lying Amazon forest near the Andean foothills, an exceptionally diverse ecosystem.

What else does one do in the home to many poisonous reptiles and amphibians, but go on a night hike, of course!

Among the stunning photographs and video footage which they documented in a paper published online at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation included a large tarantula dragging a baby opossum and eating it.

“We were pretty ecstatic and shocked, and we couldn’t really believe what we were seeing, we knew we were witnessing something pretty special, but we weren’t aware that it was the first observation until after the fact,” said researcher Michael Grundler.

The research documents many examples of predatory behavior and helps to develop a deeper understanding of the food webs of the region.

“These events offer a snapshot of the many connections that shape food webs, and they provide insights into an important source of vertebrate mortality that appears to be less common outside the tropics,” said the study’s first author, Rudolf von May, a postdoctoral researcher in Rabosky’s lab.

Your students will likely love the footage, appreciate the beauty of the creatures and develop a keen insight into the fascinating and important work of these evolutionary biologists and researchers.

I would recommend reading the article by Jim Erickson as well as reading the online journal article. A great way to get some of your 1,000 words of reading a day in!

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is a vertebrate?
  2. Why is it important to understand an ecosystem’s food web?
  3. What other prey have the spiders been documented to eat?
  4. Where did the researchers do their fieldwork?
  5. After watching the video and reading the article, what other questions do you have for the researchers?




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