It has all the makings of a fight night special: with speed and skill, a scrappy redback spider takes down an eastern brown snake over ten times its size.
In reality, this spider just got very, very lucky.
A video filmed in an engine shop in Victoria, Australia shows what appears to be a young eastern brown snake caught in the nearly invisible web of a redback spider—“our pet redback,” the videographers joke in the Facebook caption. As the thrashing snake attempts to free itself, the spider dances closer, eventually managing to administer a bite that seems to temporarily immobilize the snake. (Watch an eastern brown snake swallow a carpet python.)
Although the video ends with the outcome of the battle still unclear, the tiny spider did, in fact, vanquish its outsized foe, confirms Brenton Maher, an employee of North Vic Engines who was present when the video was filmed. While spiders are efficient predators, however, the outcome of this rare occurrence came down to pure chance.
The spider in this video is a female redback (Latrodectus hasselti), easily identified by the vivid red marking on her bulbous abdomen. The genus Latrodectus, which also includes the five black widow spiders found in the United States, is known for spinning messy but especially strong webs: the resilient, elastic silk capture threads reach all the way to the ground and ensnare hapless insects, centipedes, or even other spiders.
These web threads are covered in droplets of glue, secreted by another of the spiders up to seven specialized silk glands.
his juvenile eastern brown snake’s youth was the likely cause of its inability to escape. Once the redback managed to inject her venom, its odds of survival dropped dramatically.
Widow spiders’ venom contains a protein, called latrodectine, that immobilizes their prey. In human beings, this neurotoxin interferes with the chemicals responsible for nerve signaling, causing “severe systemic pain throughout the body,” says Cushing. Beginning within half an hour of a bite, these symptoms—crippling stomach cramps, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, facial contortions, sweating—can last for 48 hours without treatment.
This toxin likely acted much more quickly in the young snake, weakening it enough that the spider could further immobilize it in silk and commence digestion without risk of being crushed. Spiders’ mouths lack the structures necessary to chew particulate material, so all their food must be pre-digested. The redback would have injected the paralyzed snake with digestive enzymes to break down its tissue, leaving a protein shake of sorts, which she could then ingest with her sucking stomach.