WILD LIFE | 11.06.18

Spider House Rules

For these hunters, no right-sized target is off-limits—regardless of whether or not it has a backbone.

Photograph by Chien C. Lee


There’s a natural order to the world. Oak leaves absorb sunlight; flamingos filter shrimp; leopards stalk springboks; and urban raccoons fish french fries out of garbage cans. Simple, intuitive, orderly.

Sometimes, though, circumstances in nature reveal rules that most of us never would have expected. Take this huntsman spider (Sparassidae), for example. When wildlife photographer Chien C. Lee encountered the arachnid in the Akanin'ny Nofy Reserve along Madagascar’s east coast, he made a surprising discovery. Peering out from the clutches of the spider’s menacing mandibles was a recognizable face, that of a juvenile peacock day gecko (

Phelsuma quadriocellata

)—a fellow vertebrate—its body death-wrapped in silk. It was a startling sight, but not a particularly unusual one.

In nature, it turns out, size often trumps taxonomy. Yes, lizards regularly eat insects and arachnids. But some spiders (large ones) and a wide variety of other arthropods also routinely prey on lizards—and fish, and birds, and rodents, and bats. In fact, scientists have found that in some ecosystems, invertebrate predators can have a significant impact on the populations of their vertebrate prey.

Like all predators, invertebrate hunters rely on a variety of adaptations to gain an advantage over their quarry. Some use venom or elaborate silk webs to catch and subdue their prey. Ambush predators, like the huntsman, rely on stealth and lightning-fast strikes. Regardless of the strategy an arachnid employs, though, the decision about whether or not to pounce may be driven mostly by the size of the prey animal. For the huntsman, if it’s small enough to catch and overpower, it’s fair game—regardless of its position on the tree of life.

Akanin'ny Nofy Reserve, Madagascar


ABOUT THE Photographer

With a background in ecology and environmental education, wildlife photographer Chien C. Lee has been based on the island of Borneo since 1996. He specializes in documenting the flora and fauna of rainforests, with a particular emphasis on species that exhibit extraordinary adaptations such as camouflage, mimicry, and interspecific mutualism.

Chien C. Lee Chien Lee




For these jumping spiders, stayin' alive requires all the right dance moves—and the perfect soundtrack, too.

video | 09.13.16

Lens of Time: Spider Seduction

With eight eyes, two hydraulic legs, and impressive cognitive abilities, this jumping spider has a leg up on even the feistiest prey.

spotlight | 02.20.18

Face Off

A sea lion’s desperate foray into unusual prey reflects recent dramatic shifts in the marine ecosystem off California’s coast.

spotlight | 07.26.16

Holey Mola


is powered by the California Academy of Sciences, a renowned scientific and educational institution dedicated to exploring, explaining, and sustaining life on Earth.

©2018 California Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.