A survey of reports on spiders preying on small, non-flying mammals (i.e., mice, deer mice, voles, rats, heteromyid rodents, shrews) published in the literature and in the social media yielded a total of 42 naturally occurring incidents. Spiders from five families (Agelenidae, Ctenidae, Sparassidae, Theraphosidae, and Theridiidae) were reported capturing small mammals under natural conditions. Additionally, spiders from four more families (Atracidae, Lycosidae, Pisauridae, and Porrhothelidae) are known to kill small mammals in captivity. Approximately 80% of the reported incidents were attributable to theridiid spiders, especially the Australian redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti Thorell, 1870) and three species of North American widow spiders (Latrodectus geometricus C.L. Koch, 1841, Latrodectus hesperus Chamberlin & Ivie, 1935, and Latrodectus mactans (Fabricius, 1775)) that have been shown to be expert mouse-catchers. The success of widow spiders in subduing small mammals can be explained by their ability to spin strong webs made up of tough silk, and producing a very potent toxin (α-latrotoxin) specifically targeting the vertebrate nervous system.
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Vol. 46 • No. 3