Spider House Rules
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
Chien C. Lee
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.