False widow spider found devouring native pygmy shrew by Galway scientists
The fresh footage shows a more powerful pygmy shrew, a protected animal here and in the UK, also falling prey to a false widow
Scientists in Galway have released footage of a false widow spider killing and eating a pygmy shrew many times its size in what is believed to be the first visual record of such an attack.
The film, recorded in England, is part of a programme led by a team at University of Galway who are monitoring the behaviour of the aggressive spider which is not native to either Ireland or the UK.
Since its arrival, it has been categorised as as invasive species and closely monitored to assess its impact on native spiders and other creatures.
Last year one was recorded feeding off a young bat that became entangled in a web attached to the roof of an urban house.
The fresh footage shows a more powerful pygmy shrew, a protected animal here and in the UK, also falling prey to a false widow after becoming stuck in a web in the outside corner of a bedroom window.
The Galway team, whose latest study is published in the international journal, Ecosphere, said the discovery was further evidence of the damage the spider could cause to native species.
Dr Michel Dugon, head of the Venom Systems Lab at University of Galway’s Ryan Institute and lead author of the study, has been monitoring the spider for the last seven years.
“This observation demonstrates further that the noble false widow is perfectly adapted to take down large prey, combining potent venom, extremely strong silk and complex hunting behaviour,” he said.
The scientists are asking the public to send them details of any reported sightings they have of the false widow.
“The noble false widow is a very intriguing spider, and we have much to learn about it still,” said team member, Dr John Dunbar.
“We are very grateful to the members of the public who share their observations with us. This allows us to understand better how this invasive species may impact us and our environment.”
The footage of the shrew was captured by team member, Dawn Sturgess, in Chichester in southern England.
The shrew was still alive when the householder spotted it but the spider’s highly potent neurotoxic venom was already taking effect.
The spider was observed hoisting the shrew upwards into the rafters where it wrapped it in silk and fed off its meal for three days.
The team have previously verified footage of a false widow feeding on Ireland’s only native lizard, the common lizard.
False widows were first recorded in Ireland in the 1980s but the Galway team are keen to learn how well established they have become and how much harm they could eventually do to other creatures.
Anyone with sightings to report is asked to email details to firstname.lastname@example.org
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