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March 17, 2013

Bat-eating spiders: Bat death traps on all continents but one

Posted in: Science

A Tennessee second-grader cradles a tarantula. This type of spider has been known to eat bats. A new study shows incidences of spiders devouring bats may be greater than previously thought. (Kyle Kurlick / The Commercial Appeal/Associated Press)

A Tennessee second-grader cradles a tarantula. This type of spider has been known to eat bats. A new study shows incidences of spiders devouring bats may be greater than previously thought. (Kyle Kurlick / Commercial Appeal)

Bat-eating spiders are virtually everywhere, a new study has found. The only place bats are safe from these grasping arachnids is Antarctica.

And bats don’t live in Antarctica.

It’s enough to make you feel sorry for bats.  The study, published last week in the journal Plos One, says: “Incidences of bats being captured by spiders have been reported from virtually every continent with the exception of Antarctica.”

Reports include bats being hunted down and captured by tarantulas and other hunting spiders. Otherwise, crafty arachnids have built their webs where the bats will become entangled — and then become lunch.

“The dominant group of bat-catching spiders are giant orb-weavers of the genus Nephila,” the report states. These forest-dwelling spiders have a leg span of 4 to 6 inches and can weigh as much as 7 grams. “Feeding was found to be most intense in the time between sundown and midnight.”

The female spiders have been known to join together, building several connecting webs for a  bat death trap “of many square meters.”

Perhaps it’s only fair.  Bats have few natural enemies.  The spiders help keep the balance.  With help from a giant centipede that eats bats.

Here are a couple of other creatures to give you the heebie jeebies.

— An ancient shark-like animal with serrated teeth that spiraled around each other, for a bite like a buzz saw.  And perhaps more terrifying because it lives today: the lamprey, an eel-like creature with rows of jagged teeth.

— The pythons of the Florida Everglades.  The giant constricting snakes are wiping out the mammals of south Florida.

Those spiders don’t seem so scary anymore.

— Amy Hubbard

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