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Some Spiders Can Eat Bats

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One night in 1941, G.C. Bhattacharya walked in to a cowshed in Calcutta, India and saw a small figure struggling and twisting against one of the walls. It was a small bat fighting its way out from in between two of the bamboo strips that the shed's walls were made of.

As he got closer, Bhattacharya saw that the crevice was not the only thing the bat was struggling with. A large spider was holding the bat by the neck with its mandibles and biting it. The bat gasped and screamed and struggled against its attacker, but the spider would not let go. When Bhattacharya lit a torch to help him see better, the bat shrieked and flapped its wings, freeing itself from the crevice, but not from the spider.

After managing to crawl along the wall a little bit, the bat exhausted itself and stopped moving for around 20 minutes before flapping one wing a few last times and stretching it out, as if reaching out to Bhattacharya for help.

The battle's victor clearly decided, Bhattacharya captured both the bat and the spider in a glass jar and brought them home for closer observation. The next morning, he found the spider resting upside down at the top of the jar, and the bat lying stiff on the bottom with visible injuries to its neck. It had not survived the night.

Bats’ most prominent predators are owls, hawks, and snakes, but a study published earlier this year reveals that spiders are also a formidable enemy, and that plenty of other people have witnessed incidents of chiropterophagy like the one Bhattacharya did.

To see just how common spider predation on bats was, Martin Nyffeler from the University of Basel (Switzerland) and Mirjam Knörnschild from the University of Ulm (Germany), combed through published research, blog posts and Flickr photographs and interviewed scientists who studied spiders and bats and veterinarians who worked at bat hospitals.

Altogether, they were able to gather 52 reports of bats being caught by spiders (whether in webs, or being actively hunted by non-web-building spiders), 29 of which had never been published before. Reports came in from every continent except Antarctica, but more than three-quarters of the cases happened in tropical areas around the Equator, most often in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

In most of these incidents, the spiders were large (10–15 cm legspan, ~1–7 g weight) web builders, mainly from the genus Nephila. These spiders are nocturnal hunters that spin webs up to 1.5 m across, and occasionally get together to build several webs connected to each other. The victims, meanwhile, were overwhelmingly small (10–24 cm wingspan, 3–8 g weight) insect-eaters, mostly from the family Vespertilionidae.

It doesn’t seem like the spiders intended to catch a bat every time. In some of these incidents, the spider completely ignored the bat caught in its web. Other times, the bat was known to be dead already before a spider found and began eating it. In these cases, it appears that bats simply sometimes get stuck in spiderwebs and die of exposure or starvation without being preyed upon, and sometimes spiders simply scavenge the body of dead bats without having killed them. In many cases, though, it was clear that spiders were intentionally killing and eating bats, immobilizing ones that got caught in their webs with a silk wrap, biting them and later consuming them.

Fifty-two spider-on-bat battles doesn’t not seem like a whole lot, especially when you consider that these reports cover a timespan of 100+ years. Indeed, Nyffeler and Knörnschild were actually surprised that that was all they found, given the sheer number of spiderwebs that must stand in the way of bats’ flight paths throughout the tropical parts of the world. They suggest that bats may be very good at avoiding spiderwebs with the help of echolocation. While the silk threads that make up the web are likely too thin to echolocate, the denser decorations and barriers that spiders place on them—plus the spider itself sitting in the center of web—should be large enough for the bats to detect in flight.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
7 Fun Facts for World Elephant Day
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Happy World Elephant Day! Celebrate the occasion with some facts about everyone's favorite gentle giant. 

1. ELEPHANTS CAN RECOGNIZE OTHER ELEPHANT CARCASSES.

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The University of Sussex's Karen McComb told National Geographic that elephants "become excited and agitated if they come across a dead elephant," and, in particular, will investigate skulls and tusks. McComb teamed up with researchers at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya to study the behavior, showing wild elephants a range of objects that included skulls. They found that the elephants examined skulls—and tusks in particular—of their own kind twice as long as other skulls, and examined tusks six times as long as they did pieces of wood. They were even able to recognize elephant skulls with the tusks removed, but didn't show preference for certain elephant skulls over others, which suggests they didn't know which skulls belonged to their own relatives. "Animals that are intensely social in life may be most likely to display an interest in their dead," McComb told National Geographic. "But what goes on in their minds while they are doing this is a total mystery."

2. THEY'RE SCARED OF BEES.

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Forget about mice scaring off elephants: When farmers need to keep elephants away from their crops, they should use bees. Researchers in Kenya discovered that even the recorded sound of buzzing bees was enough to make elephants retreat—and cause them to emit low-frequency sound, inaudible to humans, that warns other elephants. "It's impossible to cover Africa in electric fences," Lucy King, author of the paper, told the Huffington Post. "The infrastructure doesn't exist in many places and it would restrict animals' movement." But something like a bee fence—hives strung on strong wires a certain distance apart that would move when elephants walked into them, disturbing the hives—"could be a better way to direct elephants away from farmers' crops," she said.

3. THEY MIGHT UNDERSTAND POINTING.

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Human adults and babies often use pointing as a way to nonverbally get a message across, but not many other animals grasp the concept. But according to a two-month study of 11 tame African elephants, these pachyderms might be able to: When presented with two identical buckets and pointed in the direction of the one containing food, elephants picked up on the cue fairly consistently: Elephants had a success rate of 67.5 percent (1-year-old humans have a success rate of 72.7 percent). But an earlier study of Asian elephants indicated that they don’t notice pointing gestures, which is a bit of a mystery.

4. ONE ELEPHANT CAN "TALK." 

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Koshik, an elephant in a South Korean zoo, developed the ability to imitate the sounds of five words he's heard from his trainer—annyeong (hello), anja (sit down), aniya (no), nuwo (lie down), and joa (good)—by sticking his trunk in his mouth. The scientists who first noticed Koshik’s ability speculate that he learned to “talk” because he was lonely.

5. THEY'RE DIGITIGRADES.

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It's Latin for "finger walking," and what it means is that elephants walk on their toes (there are five of them, as well a sixth false toe). According to the book Mammal Anatomy: An Illustrated Guidemost of the animals' weight "rests on a broad pad of elastic tissue behind the toes" which "acts as a shock absorber and prevents the skeleton from jolting too much when the animals walk. It also allows elephants to move surprisingly quietly despite their size."

6. AN ELEPHANT PREGNANCY LASTS ABOUT TWO YEARS.

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If you thought being pregnant for nine months was bad, be glad you're not an elephant, which can be pregnant for up to 680 days, according to the BBC. All that time in the oven has a benefit, though: Elephant calves are born with highly-developed brains, capable of learning their herds’ complex social structures and ready to put their trunks to use.

7. NINETY-SIX ELEPHANTS ARE KILLED IN AFRICA EVERY DAY.

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Unfortunately, elephant poaching remains a very big problem: An estimated 35,000 elephants are killed annually, their tusks sold illegally in the ivory market. Do the math, and that comes out to nearly 96 elephants every day. Find out what you can do to help elephants and stop poaching at 96Elephants.org.

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