Ant Eater

An acrobatic hunting trick right out of the spider-verse.

Spiders have no shortage of hunting strategies. Some hunt in packs, others set traps and some even mimic the pheromones of their prey's mate.

But fewer than 1 percent of spider species go after ants. Ants are fierce, and many are venomous adversaries with sharp mandibles.

That's why Alfonso Aceves-Aparicio, a behavioral biologist, was surprised on a walk in Sydney, Australia, when he inspected a reddish blob hanging from the trunk of a eucalyptus tree. He realized that it was an ant attached to the silk line of a spider  - a spider much smaller than the ant.

He picked an ant off the ground and placed it on the tree, and it began to move toward one of the spiders. When the ant got close, the spider began moving frantically and then, suddenly, was gone.

Mr. Aceves-Aparicio thought at first that the spider had fallen from the tree but then saw that the ant was hanging on a silk thread from the tree trunk.

In further study of Euryopis umbilicata spiders, Mr. Aceves-Aparicio and his colleagues used high speed cameras. They found that the spider would -in a matter of milliseconds- flip its body over an ant, while attaching silk to it.

''It's almost like an action movie stuntman,'' said Marie Herberstein, a behavioral ecologist at Macquarie University and a co-author of the resulting study. [Sam Jones]


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