A hapless cricket gets the horror-story treatment in a chilling new GIF of a trapdoor spider on the attack.
The GIF, posted on gfycat by user jm610228 but originally taken by Nashville, Tennessee-based arachnid enthusiast Andrea van Veggel, shows a cricket moseying by what looks to be a large mound of mud … only to have that mud open up like a clamshell, to reveal a shiny, fat spider (think Thing from “The Addams Family”). The oversize arachnid grabs the passing cricket, and the hidden burrow closes. The spider in the GIF is probably an African trapdoor spider (Gorgyrella inermis), said Joe Ballenger, an entomologist who runs the website Ask an Entomologist. These spiders are commonly traded, bred and sold as pets, Ballenger told Live Science. [Beastly Feasts: Amazing Photos of Animals and Their Prey]
Van Veggel’s Facebook page features several videos of the trapdoor spider, as well as many other arachnids in her collection.
African trapdoor spiders are part of a group called mygalomorphs, which have downward-pointing fangs, Ballenger said. Tarantulas are another example of mygalomorphs. By contrast, jumping spiders, wolf spiders and other familiar garden species are araneomorphs, distinguished by their inward-pointing fangs.
Although African trapdoor spiders are common pets among exotic-animal enthusiasts, not much is known about their natural ecology in the wild, Ballenger said. It’s not uncommon for animals in the pet trade to be poorly studied in their natural environment, he said. Sometimes, new species are even discovered in aquariums or cages, simply because people who trap and trade animals from the wild aren’t usually biologists.
What is known is that African trapdoor spiders live in grassland environments in Africa, where they dig flask-shaped tunnels and cover them with “lids” made of silk, dirt and vegetation. This lid makes them quite different from other trapdoor spiders that use a similar method of ambush hunting. The ravine trapdoor spider (Cyclocosmia truncata), for example, plugs its burrow with its own abdomen, which ends in a flat disc lined with grooves, making it look nearly identical to an Oreo.
According to the Continental Neoichnology Database at Ohio University, African trapdoor spiders rarely venture from their burrows once they’ve dug in. They’re mostly active at night, making them largely invisible pets. But they’re also good housekeepers: When they need to excrete waste, they climb to the door and projectile-poop to keep the feces far from their dwelling.