In Search of the Mysterious Chicken-Eating Spider

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Spider expert Martin Nicholas was intrigued by the story of a giant South American spider that kills chickens, so he went to Peru to find this mysterious animal. Using a tiny spider cam that he poked down spider holes, he found what he was looking for; a giant spider nearly one foot across that is possibly new to science.

Besides its large size, this spider species was also remarkable because it appears to engage in both parental care and in team hunting practices.

"Seeing the big mama tarantula with the young was remarkable. Most tarantulas are in no way gregarious. In fact, they often cannibalize their own young. So seeing that was very unusual," said Nicholas. "But it may make sense. It looks like when they go out at night as a group, they can catch and kill larger prey by working together."

Additionally, Nicholas's spider cam revealed that a small frog was living with the spider community in their hole -- unmolested.

"We also discovered that those spiders appeared to be keeping a pet. There was a little frog that lived down in the hole with the spiders," Nicholas said. "It may offer some sort of service to spiders, like sweeping up ants that might bother the spiders."

It is not known if this large black tarantula is new to science; further study is required before it can be definitively identified. But Nicholas has already discovered several new species of spiders.

"I've even discovered a couple of new species ... one is a small, brown, stripey tarantula that builds the most incredible tube webs. It is going to be named after me," he said.

Nicholas has always been interested in spiders, even as a child. As an adult, in addition to travelling the world to learn more about spiders, Nicholas also raises them in his home, which is a large converted chapel.

"They've got one whole end of a hall," said Nicholas. "I keep, breed, and photograph dozens of species. I always say keeping and feeding 500 tarantulas is cheaper than keeping a single dog!"

Cited interview.

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I spent a couple of years as an undergraduate living in a house with a guy who kept tarantulas. This guy was doing a zoology degree, and for his project did some arachnid physiology, which meant he had to shave his tarantulas.

He ended up in a museum in Berlin.

Bob one else finds it amusing that this guy SHAVES tarantulas?

How do you do that anyway? Tiny little clippers? I don't think Gillette makes anything that small, do they?

By eewestcoaster (not verified) on 08 May 2007 #permalink

Great, now I'm going to have nightmares... the image of a team of a dozen spiders the size of a puppy, hunting me down.

Whereas I'm going to sit and pout about the lack of images.

I hypothesize that this breed was unknown until a mild-mannered ordinary tarantula was bitten by a radioactive New York teenager...

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 08 May 2007 #permalink

Apparently a normal razor blade worked fine. Well, actually several normal razor blades: they tend to become blunt very quickly.

As for ending up in a museum, I think he was there as a curator, but his web page hasn't been updated for a couple of years...