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November 4, 2013 Archives

The daughter & her friends play Assassin's Creed from time to time. This little arachnid would fit right in:

Photo: Jeremy Miller

For this is an assassin spider, one of a number of species (in the superfamily Palpiamanoidea) that prey on other spiders.

The assassin spiders have a long history: a combination of fossil & DNA evidence suggests that they go to before the supercontinent Gondwana began to break up under the slow but irresistable influence of plate tectonics. While there's one fossil found in what's now the northern hemisphere, all living species are found south of the equator, in Madagascar, South Africa, and Australia.

These strange little creatures are only a couple of millimetres long, but have a set of adaptations that allow them to strike their prey from a (reasonably!) safe distance. Their fang-tipped jaws are enormous - in the image above, the jaws holding the spider's meal are about the length of the animal's abdomen. The long 'neck' is an extension of the cephalothorax - the first of the 2 major sections of a spider's body (the other is the abdomen, or opisthoma). The combination of neck & jaws means an assassin spider can impale another spider before the latter is within range to strike back. That's after they've found their prospective dinner by following lines of thread it's left behind, using their very long forelegs (which may also be used to lure the prey closer.

Which is probably quite enough for those of you who aren't fond of spiders, not even itsy little 2mm-long spiders. But for those who want to find out more, try this video:

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