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5 Crazy Things That Spiders Eat

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If you thought spiders only eat insects, think again. In recent years, scientists have discovered that small animals and other surprising food items are an important part of many spiders’ diets.   

1. Fish

arachne.org

Semiaquatic spiders such as Dolomedes facetus (above) occasionally kill and devour small fish, according to a new study in PLoS One. The study’s authors list more than 80 known cases, spread across every continent except Antarctica, where spiders have ambushed fish from the edges of ponds, lakes, rivers and swamps. The arachnids use their neurotoxic venom to subdue the fish, then drag them to a dry place to eat them. The chum are small—typically between one and 2.5 inches long—but on average they’re 2.2 times larger than the spider.

One interesting species, Argyroneta aquatica, constructs a dome-shaped web amongst water plants, and fills it with air from the surface. After the spider slays its aquatic prey, it brings the meal back to the dome to eat it.

2. Bats

Scientists have reported more than 52 cases of spiders eating small or juvenile bats with a wingspan of up to nine inches. In the majority of those cases, the bats accidentally get tangled up in webs—usually those of tropical and subtropical orb-weaving spiders, whose webs can be six feet in diameter or larger. But some species of tarantula have been known to stalk and attack bats on rare occasions.

3. Birds

There’s no indication that spiders are adapted to eat birds. In fact, a collision with a bird can cause significant damage to a spider’s web. But when life hands you lemons … wrap them in silk, liquefy their innards, and feast.

A 2012 paper catalogued 69 cases of birds getting trapped in spider webs, including 18 that had been mummified in silk for consumption by the spiders. (Many of these birds were rescued through human intervention.) The largest species recorded was a three-ounce Laughing Dove. Most of the other victims were hummingbirds. Here again, the culprits were almost always orb weaver spiders.

4. Snakes

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That’s right—spiders can eat snakes. And if you don’t believe us, check out this horrifying video, or these images. In 1926, Canadian entomologist James Henry Emerton wrote a graphic description of how the tarantula Grammostola actaeon kills its slithering prey:

When a Grammostola and a young snake are put in a cage together the spider tries to catch the snake by the head and will hold on in spite of all efforts of the snake to shake him off. After a minute or two the spider's poison takes effect, and the snake become quiet. Beginning at the head, the spider crushes the snake with its mandibles and feeds upon its soft parts, some- times taking 24 hours or more to suck the whole animal, leaving the remains in a shapeless mass.

5. Plants

R. L. Curry

Of the world’s 35,000 or so spider species, only one is known to be herbivorous. The (mostly) vegetarian Bagheera kiplingi dines on leaf tips of the acacia shrub in Mexico and Central America. It uses its hunting kills to avoid the ants that colonize acacia … and occasionally dines on their larvae to supplement its diet.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

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
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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