You won’t believe this weird spider!

January 22, 2018 • 1:30 pm

LOL! I used a clickbait headline again! But you really should pay attention to this bizarre arachnid: the pelican spider (also called the “assassin” spider). Note the eyes at the top, the bizarrely formed cephalothorax, and the very long chelicerae (jaws):

Photo: Hannah Wood

The specimen above, pictured in an article at the Mother Nature Network (MNN) appears to have had its legs removed, but here’s an intact one:

Sourse: Synapse

Why do they look like this? MNN explains:

Pelican spiders were introduced to science in 1854, when one of the bizarre-looking creatures was found preserved in 50 million-year-old amber. With a long neck-like structure and mouthparts protruding like an angled “beak,” the comparisons to a pelican were probably inevitable. Scientists initially thought pelican spiders were extinct, but then live specimens were found a few decades later — and that’s when the purpose behind their pelican-esque appearance became clear.

Pelican spiders, aka assassin spiders, evolved to look like this for good reason: They eat other spiders, and need a way to subdue their potentially dangerous prey from a safe distance. They’re active hunters, skulking through the night in search of silk draglines created by other spiders. When they find one, they follow the silk to its source, sometimes plucking on the spider’s web to trick it into coming closer. And once the unsuspecting prey is within range, a pelican spider will impale it with her long, fang-tipped “jaws” (actually appendages called chelicerae), as the Smithsonian Institution explains. She then uses her chelicerae to hold the prey away from her body, keeping herself safe from potential counterattacks until the captured spider dies (see photo below).

Spider at work:

Photo: Nikolai Scharff

These spiders are especially abundant in Madagascar, but are also found in Australasia and southern Africa. There’s a new paper reviewing the Madagascar group (see below, free access), but it’s nearly 100 pages long, full of morphological detail useful for taxonomy but not for us, and I haven’t read it. If you’re an arachnophile, have a go.

I couldn’t find a video of these things preying on other spiders, but this YouTube video gives a longer explanation and an animation of how they catch other spiders:

h/t: Su

Wood, H. M. and N. Scharff. 2018. A review of the Madagascaran pelican spiders of the genus Eriauchenius O. Pickard-Cambridge, 1881, and Madagascarahaea gen. n. (Araneaa, Archaeidae). ZooKeys 727:1096.

40 thoughts on “You won’t believe this weird spider!

  1. I can’t decide if that picture reminds me more of a guru sitting on a mountain or the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland.

  2. A pelican spider is found in 50 myo amber, and it is just like modern pelican spiders!
    Checkmate, evilutionists!

  3. I don’t mind spiders in my house at all. I never bother them. This one I don’t want in my house. Too scary looking.

  4. In the 1980s I was fortunate to find a few pelican spiders in leaf litter samples from far northern Australia – Part of the CSIRO National Insect Collection. Their unique way of hunting wasn’t known back then. Extraordinary little critters.


  5. Thank you for the science articles. I’m sure many of your followers are like me: we enjoy reading them but never respond, or seldom, because we have nothing significant to contribute.

  6. I can’t standing looking at spiders, so I can’t comment on the post. But in honor of the HuffPo style headline I will recommend an off-topic HuffPo article, “Reading ‘The God Delusion’ in the Arab World”:

    I came across it while reading another fascinating article, “The Underground Railway to Save Atheists”:

  7. Are there any “normal” creatures on Madagascar? I know, they are normal to Madagascarians. There is a line in the movie “Quigley Down Under”: “They say God made Australia last, don’t you know, after he got tired of making everything else the same.” There and Madagascar it seems.

  8. I’m horribly arachnophobic, but for some reason that one doesn’t set me off. The one it’s eating does. How strange!

    1. My daughter’s a horrible arachnophobe, too. I wish I knew why. It causes me great sadness as a biologist.

      1. Well Dr Muffet used to give ground up Spiders to his stepdaughter ,or so the story goes.

        I hope you didn’t do the same ?

    1. It’s not cannibalism unless eater and eaten belong to the same species. The assassin spider eating a spider of a different species is equivalent to you or I eating a beef steak or a pork chop – carnivory, but not cannibalism. However, many spiders are cannibalistic in the true sense, e.g. those in which the female consumes the male after mating.

  9. “You Won’t Believe This List of 11 Genius Celebrity Diet Plans!”

    I was thinking on the headline with the most dense concentration of inter-buzz-web words …

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