A Jumble of Legs: Huntsman Spider Preys on a House Centipede in Malaysia! - Observation of the Week, 9/7/20

Our Observation of the Week is this many-legged scene of a huntsman spider and its house centipede prey, seen in Malaysia by @msone!

Dr. Masatoshi Sone is a professor of paleontology at Universiti Malaya, and he describes his field as “about half-geology half-biology, so I do like the taxonomic identification and systematics of life.” While he was a keen naturalist as an undergraduate student, his attention turned toward the “ancient” environment until about two years ago, when insect macro photography reignited his interest in the “modern” environment.  “I soon found iNaturalist introduced by biology students of my current university,” he tells me. “Since then, I carry my camera with a macro lens while I do geology fieldwork in the jungle.”

Masatoshi took his family on a trip to the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia during last year’s holiday break, and says “[I] love to go finding insects in the coastal bush at night, because life there is a little different from what I usually see in the Kuala Lumpur area or in the western side of the peninsula.” He came across the spider and centipede while out exploring one night, and says

honestly speaking, my first impression was that the scene was just ‘messy’, as there were so many long, thin appendages lying over the leaf. I soon recognised it was another large arthropod, Prey! but was not sure what it was. After I came back to my room and checked the photos, I even got more shocked and excited. It was a big centipede (with long thin appendages of definitely more than 8), and the prey was even larger than the predator. I've never observed some large Scutigeromorpha (house centipedes), but as they are alive they should usually look even more scary than huntsman spiders. Then, I understand why this dead one looked harmless, and it was perhaps an immature one, still medium-sized.  

Giant huntsman spiders (Genus Heteropoda) are native to Asia and Australia, and as you might surmise they do not spin webs in order to catch their prey. Rather, they stalk and pounce on their prey, then inject it with venom to immobilize it. The Giant Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda maxima), found in Laos, is the largest spider in the world if one is going by legspan - its legspan is about 30 cm (1 ft). 

You’ve probably encountered a house centipede at some point in your life. The most common species, Scutigera coleoptrata, originated in the Mediterranean but can now be found on pretty much every continent besides Antarctica, and they are quite comfortable living indoors. Their stings (centipedes don’t “bite,” venom is injected by modified forelegs) is not considered medically significant to humans. 

Masatoshi (above, looking for dragonflies in Borneo), explains that he initially started using iNaturalist because he respects and agree with the concept of citizen science (“This is perhaps because I am a professional scientist and I know the constraints of ‘professional science’.”), but “purely I enjoy making observations and identifications of what I observe. In principle, I try to participate in and enjoy iNat purely as an amateur naturalist (for biology and ecology, yes I am), separate from my science profession.”

And in that respect, he says that iNaturalist has changed the way he sees and interacts with nature “Definitely and dramatically.” He brings up, this photo of a common tit caterpillar surrounded by asian weaver ants. In the field, he was curious about the interaction and 

Just a few hours after I posted my observation to iNat, my question was solved perfectly with some comments from other like-minded people...as I understand, ants were abducting this poor caterpillar to their nest. iNat is not just the database for making identifications but is the place of having support and exchange of knowledge.

- You can check out Masatoshi's home page here!

- House centipedes have 15 pairs of legs, so there might be up to 38 legs in this observation! 

- Here’s some nice footage of a Giant Huntsman stalking prey in Laos. Unfortunately it’s saddled with overwrought narration, music, and foley effects. But worth watching!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, September 07, 2020 19:20


Yikes! So many legs hahah

Posted by hmoranmac about 2 years ago (Flag)

Woah, that is so cool! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by bug_girl about 2 years ago (Flag)

The Huntsman has a beautiful color and pattern. Such a cool shot! Kudos!

Posted by walkingstick2 about 2 years ago (Flag)

What a great shot! Well done!

Posted by susanhewitt about 2 years ago (Flag)

Great photo!

Posted by jim_carretta about 2 years ago (Flag)

A great observation and a wonderful photo to match!

Posted by whaichi about 2 years ago (Flag)

Awesome! Thanks for sharing! This citizen science adept enjoys such fantastic pictures on iNaturalist!

Posted by sonnekke about 2 years ago (Flag)

That's a great picture, you can really see the detail on the Huntsman! Great job!

Posted by awesomerobot1227 about 2 years ago (Flag)

This is one of the examples of nature in action!

Posted by arnavbedekar about 2 years ago (Flag)

I could use some of those spiders here. Centipede venom injections might not be considered medically significant, but they are very painful, cause swelling in the affected area, and even days later remain itchy. The centipedes here were apparently introduced, without their predator. Great photo, thanks for sharing!

Posted by danaleeling about 2 years ago (Flag)

It seems like Huntsman Spiders spray the webbing materials on their prey. Is that true?

Posted by arnavbedekar about 2 years ago (Flag)

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