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Snake-eating spiders are surprisingly common

A spider’s typical dinner menu might include insects, worms or even small lizards and frogs (SN: 2/3/21). But some arachnids have more adventurous tastes — they can eat snakes up to 30 times their size.

Take the Australian redback. Not including legs, a female of this species of spider is only about the size of an M&M candy. But she can take down relatively big prey such as juvenile eastern brown snakes, which are among the most venomous serpents in the world. A snake that gets trapped in a redback’s web — a messy tangle of long, sticky silk threads that dangle to the ground — is quickly set upon by the spider, which subdues the struggling victim with more sticky silk before delivering a toxic bite that eventually kills the snake.

“I find it cool that tiny Australian redback spiders can kill brown snakes,” says spider biologist Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland. “[It’s] very fascinating and a little frightening!”

But redbacks are far from the only spiders with an appetite for snake. At least 11 different families of spiders feed on snakes, Nyffeler and herpetologist Whit Gibbons report May 11 in The Journal of Arachnology.

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