The dark jungle is full of terrors.
As it should be, because chaos reigns in the wild, and spotting the peculiar or unexpected is the norm.
“We’re always seeing crazy things,” University of Michigan evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky said in an interview.
Each year Rabosky travels to the Amazon to observe and document the flourishing biodiversity deep in these jungles. On a recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon, his team filmed some nightmarish predator-prey interactions, including a large Tarantula dragging a limp opossum — a rat-like marsupial — across the dark jungle floor.
“The body on that thing is bigger than a baseball,” said Rabosky, referring to the spider and adding that if its legs were spread out, the spider would be the size of a dinner plate.
The tarantula can be seen hauling its victim at the 12-second mark.
During this expedition, the team captured 15 rarely-observed predatory events in the jungle, including large spiders eating lizards and frogs.
When one considers how an opossum might meet death in the jungle, a predatory bird or snake often comes to mind. But these assumptions are wrong, Rabosky is learning.
“The body on that thing is bigger than a baseball”
“The reality is quite different,” he said. “For lizards and small mammals it’s possible that spiders and centipedes are a likely source of death.”
Especially large tarantulas. “They’re serious predators,” said Rabosky.
On his annual trips into the Amazon, Rabosky has spotted even greater horrors that have not been captured on camera. He described coming across an acre of wilderness that swarmed with tiny ravenous ants, each about half a millimeter in size.
They were devouring spiders.
“We watched spiders getting instantly killed by this army of ants,” Rabosky explained. “The ants would just start clinging to its legs — there would be thousands and thousands just pulling the spider apart in front of your eyes.”
The greater aim of these jungle missions is to understand why these tropical areas are so magnificently biodiverse. “That’s the million dollar question,” said Rabosky.
“We know so little about the ecology of these systems.”
Straightforward explanations like “it’s warm” don’t cut it because they oversimplify an intricate web of life with largely unknown interacting networks in the decaying ground and lofty forest canopies. “All of these simple explanations are wrong or extremely incomplete,” Rabosky explained.
A massive tarantula slaying an opossum might seem shocking, terrible, or counterintuitive, but that’s only because we haven’t grasped what’s happening in the jungles, and why.
“We know so little about the ecology of these systems,” said Rabosky. “We’re just incredibly ignorant about all these big questions.”