Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve title=
Photo by Jason Tapia
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By the edhat staff

Jason Tapia was doing a trail run in the San Marcos Preserve recently when he ran across a rare sight, a tarantula eating what appears to be a baby Rattlesnake.

"It looks like the snake had just eaten a big meal. The rattler was about a foot or less," Jason wrote to edhat.

A 2017 article from National Geographic reported that it was only in 2015 when the first recorded instance of a tarantula eating a snake in the wild was made in Brazil. A graduate student just happened to see a large species of tarantula rip apart a foot long non-venomous snake.

According to the article, scientists have known for decades that snakes can fall prey to tarantulas. In 1926, Brazilian researchers Vital Brazil and Jehan Vellard found that captive tarantulas occasionally ate snakes. A 1992 study further reported that the Goliath birdeater tarantula could eat fer-de-lance vipers, if nudged to do so. An expert stated the spiders have been known to eat anything they can over power: frogs, mice, lizards.

A 2021 study looked further into this spider eating snake thing and scientists were stunned by how prevalent it actually is. Large spiders like tarantulas were not known to be the snake eating type, but instead the spider family that includes black widows have been historically responsible for capturing the most snakes.

The study also found that the vast majority of these reports happened not in the tropics, but across North America. The snakes that fell victim are also small, averaging about 10 inches in length, although still larger than the spider. In most cases researchers found the tarantula built extremely tough webs that extend to the ground and trap unsuspecting snakes. The spider then delivers its venomous bite to paralyze it, wrap in silk, and haul it off for dinner.

"Digestive enzymes in the spider’s bite liquefy the snake’s soft parts, just as they would with a fly. The spider then takes its time slurping up the insides, with some meals stretching out days and even weeks," according to National Geographic.

This time of year, late summer to early October, is known as tarantula mating season where males set off in search of mates, most commonly seen in the Santa Ynez Valley. So it's no surprise to see a tarantula in their prime habitat, but to see one polishing off a rattler, that's unique.

Next time you're on a trail run or a hike, look down and you might find something rare.

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iceberg47 Sep 28, 2022 10:25 AM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

Great observation and thanks for documenting/sharing.

Jason, if you are following the comments I'd encourage you to submit the observation to iNaturalist, a community science project operated by the California Academy of Sciences. There is a project on iNaturalist for aggregating observation from the San Marcos Foothills (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/san-marcos-foothills-preserve). Submitting your observation is helpful in that it is maintained in the scientific record and available to researchers and managers. Thanks for your consideration.

ZeroHawk Sep 26, 2022 09:38 AM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

im having a really difficult time believing this is legit. I mean it is pretty clear what I am seeing, but being an avid hiker and mountain biker here since the 80s, i've never, ever once seen this species of tarantula in our region. mostly i see much smaller ones, about 1/3 the size of this.
i mean it's cool AF! But....i just don't know. I've got close friends that live at Paradise near Jane's ranch and they haven't even seen these. (assumed they would considering their location).
Well if it's real, it's very cool.

ZeroHawk Sep 26, 2022 11:53 AM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

Hi! yeah i see the smaller ones like the size of a 50c piece or just larger than an old silver dollar. this one in the photo looks MASSIVE.
i see the snakes all of the time. had to bunny hop over one last weekend lol...not sure who screamed louder, the snake or me.
but that tarantula just seems WAY out of place to me. thats what you find in the mojave usually. or in a jungle in Panama lol

if you've seen them that size around here, that'll prove they exist, i just have never seem one of that variety here. and man....i'm all over those hills and mountains too. i'm just shocked i guess.
i mean it is what it is, but damn....that snake had a good last meal at least

bicyclist Sep 26, 2022 10:10 AM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

Zero - I've put a lot of hours on those/these exact trails & actually had the occasion to see both those dudes (abet not as seen in the posted pic), to the point I'm pretty confident I know exactly where that spot is. I don't typically have a camera/phone with me, so I don't have the pics to prove I've seen them, but yeah a couple times more than one of that "size". The Rattler's are usually just sunning themselves on the trail, I don't know why the tarantula's are wondering on trail though?

MarcelK Sep 25, 2022 10:35 AM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

"The chicken, but that’s another story."

All chickens hatched from chicken eggs, and all chicken eggs were laid by chickens. However, as we go back in time, chickens ever so gradually look less and less like today's chickens and their eggs look less and less like today's chicken eggs ... go back far enough and the chickens look more like reptiles, and going even further they look like fish (and going even further back they look like sponges, and far enough back and they're single-celled organisms). But fish eggs, while they don't look like chicken eggs, are still eggs, so the egg came before the chicken.

toot Sep 24, 2022 09:28 AM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

If Boris the Spider just happened upon a windfall banquet lying there in the middle of the trail, then why would the creature that killed the snake in the first place just leave it there for Boris to enjoy it?

Nah, the spider killed it and now enjoys the fruits of its labor.

chico berkeley Sep 23, 2022 05:17 PM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

Up at Lake Nacimiento there is a Tarantula Wasp that stings the Tarantula in the same paralytic way drags it down a hole, lays its eggs and the young feast on said Tarantula when hatched.

macpuzl Sep 23, 2022 05:02 PM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

Definitely a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri), although in this area they are somewhat intergrade with the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganu).

macpuzl Sep 23, 2022 07:04 PM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

It's a myth that the young are more dangerous. They have overall much smaller venom glands, and what counts is dosage per kilogram of victim's body mass. Shorter fangs also make for less danger. The only factor that might apply is that the youngsters may not have learned how to modulate the amount of venom they inject. Around 25% of pit viper bites are "dry" bites, with no envenomation, although infection is still a worry.

a-1663978791 Sep 23, 2022 05:19 PM
Tarantula Seen Eating Snake in San Marcos Preserve

For reference, Southern Pacific Rattlers can be anywhere from 24-55 inches in length. Jason said it was about a foot so still pretty young. Although the young ones are more dangerous due to short fangs and ability to inject venom.

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