Wednesday 14 December 2011

Spitting Spider

Image: Michel Vuijlsteke via Flickr
This is absolutely nuts! How on earth have I managed to reach a double-digits age without hearing about this thing?! No fair!

Spitting Spiders do exactly what it sounds like they do. I remember Spider Man could squirt out a gooey mess, and he was 15 when he got bitten by that radioactive spider so... no, never mind. The point is, was Spider Man's gooey mess poisonous? I don't think it was!

Spitting Spiders have married up the gluey stuff that makes sticky webs with the usual venom. It means they can spit a venomous mass of stickiness from their venom glands, at once immobilising and poisoning their prey. Incredible!

They appear to be unlikely hunters. Tiny and gangly, nocturnal and slow-moving, with a massive, bulbous cephalothorax that can be even bigger then the abdomen. It all looks a bit ill-proportioned. But the reason for the big head is that this is where the weaponry resides.

Spitting Spiders don't have amazing eyesight and many don't use webs at all. They don't have great strength, speed or powerful fangs. All they got is their gunk gun. It's all they need!

Image: Bill & Mark Bell via Flickr
Spitting Spiders demonstrating their massive noggin
Crawling around in the darkness, it's likely they use sensitive hairs to seek out prey. When they come across something, a very deliberative process begins.

They don't go in all guns blazing. Instead, they measure out the distance to prey using their long legs. It's only now that their fangs fire one by one over a short distance of just a centimetre (half inch) or so. Spider silk is initially a liquid when it's first produced by the silk glands. It only becomes the familiar silk when it gets pulled out and stretched into a thread.

Somehow, the Spitting Spider has placed extra silk glands in its head, joined them up to the venom glands and then managed to just spit it out like a water pistol. The stuff congeals into a sticky mass on contact.

Swaying from side to side creates a zig-zag pattern to ensure the victim is thoroughly iced and glazed. The whole thing can happen in less than 1/600th of a second. With its prey stuck fast and covered in venom, the Spitting Spider can deliver the final blow. Slowly. In its own good time.

These tactics allow them to devour creatures of a size and strength you wouldn't otherwise expect. Including other spiders. Even those of their own kind.

Science Channel
If at first you don't succeed, DIIIIEEEEEEE!!!

Females carry their eggs in a silken sac under her abdomen. Some species have even been found to look after their young and help them feed. Some are even social, with a dozen or so males, females and youngsters in a single web. They help each other to take down larger prey and share the proceeds amongst themselves.

Is this not the most grisly family meal ever?

Image: millerjeremya via Flickr
The legs! The never ending legs!

The Spitting Spider is simply remarkable from start to finish! It seems to be criminally underrated and unrecognised for its unique hunting method. Lacking the brute force of the tarantula or the massive eyes of the jumping spider, the Spitter with its amazing technology is left in relative obscurity. It's like the science geek of the spider world!


Crunchy said...

I'd rather have a spider spitting at me than ON me!

Joseph JG said...

Darn right! I'm glad they're small, too. Tarantula types with that kind of power would not be nice at all!

Joseph JG said...

They can bite, yes, but I don't think they can do any damage to people. Most of them are too small to pierce skin!

It's difficult to say for sure, of course, but spiders that can hurt people are usually famous for it. From what I can tell, no one's heard of a Spitting Spider causing harm to anyone.