Introducing: the victim. Here we have the unsuspecting night moth – possibly a pink-striped oakworm moth (Anisota virginiensis) judging by its markings. This particular species is a silk moth that’s regarded as a pest, thanks to its habit of stripping the leaves from trees in forests.
Generally speaking, moths are perhaps best known for their habit of munching through your favorite clothes (although it’s actually the larvae that do the damage) and, of course, for fluttering manically around light sources. In the popular imagination, moths are also considered to be omens of death – which in a way this one is: it’s just that the death is its own.
Introducing: the hunter. Judging by the distinctive row of eyes in its head, this fierce looking specimen is a jumping spider. The name alone might be enough to make an arachnophobe shudder!
Although there are exceptions to the rule, jumping spiders don’t spin webs and wait around to catch their prey. Instead, they’re more proactive when it comes to their meals, tracking them with their excellent vision. What’s more, as the name implies, they can jump – and then some! Some species are able to leap up to 40 times their own body length.
The hunt begins. Intent on getting something to eat for the night, the spider stalks its target, carefully moving in for the kill. While it also has a 360-degree field of vision (at least for detecting movement), it is the jumping spider’s largest pair of eyes that bestows it with its keen eyesight. These eyes, known as anterior median eyes (AME), help such tiny killers to size up possible prey – and calculate their deadly jumps with amazing accuracy.
One quick move and the spider strikes! In this case, the eight-legged critter didn’t even need to use its jumping abilities. However, when jumping, spiders do catapult themselves from a surface, such as the ground or a wall, and they attach a silken thread to their launch pad. This way, if they fall, they can use the thread to climb back to the spot from which they leapt. Sort of like mountain climbers with their safety ropes – only much, much faster.
It almost looks like they’re hugging each other here – but there’s no affection in this deadly embrace. The moth starts to struggle, but it’s too late, because the spider has its insect prey firmly in the arthropod equivalent of a headlock. The longer forelegs of jumping spiders allow them to seize and hold onto their prey and keep it from escaping. These two adversaries may be about the same size, but the fragile moth is no match for this fierce predator, which can tackle creatures much bigger than itself.
With its captive meal firmly in its grasp, the spider delivers its venomous bite, sinking its fangs into the moth’s soft body. Despite what some people think, jumping spider bites aren’t dangerous to humans – unless you’re unlucky enough to be allergic to the venom (so, if bitten, it might be best to see a doctor just to be safe). With small insects like this moth, however, the venom acts quickly to immobilize the prey – and the victor will be able to eat its meal at leisure.
Like all spider species, the jumping spider lives on a strictly liquid diet. It must first dissolve the insides of its victim with digestive enzymes before sucking up the juicy goodness. Anyone for a spot of moth soup?
All this drama didn’t go down without witnesses. This winged red ant was a non-interfering bystander – but really, can you blame it? Those jaws might look menacing, but we’ve seen how effective the jumping spider’s bite can be – so letting the spider alone with its kill may have been the best option…
Flying ants are, of course, not a separate species from their non-winged counterparts; they’re just ants in the mating phase of their life cycle, mainly males but also prospective queens. It’s a life cycle this ant would no doubt like to perpetuate, which means disturbing feeding spiders is probably not a good plan!
We’re not exactly sure what species of spider this is from looking at the photo, but it sure does look frightening. The combination of those long, skinny legs and the bristles standing up on end definitely gives us the creeps! Still, it’s unlikely to want to wrestle the jumping spider for its meal. It may have long legs, but we’ve seen how agile and dangerous an antagonist the jumping spider can be.
The jumping spider has its catch and the moth sure won’t be wreaking havoc in forests or wardrobes. So ends this tale of nighttime murder! With special thanks to photographer Al Tuttle for offering us a glimpse into this fascinating drama – which we wouldn’t normally get to observe in such intimate detail.