Shoes allow me to better serve my ravenous masters

I am pleased to report that for the first time in almost a month I am wearing shoes and socks, and have stuffed the ugly ol’ immobilizing boot in a closet. It feels like real progress at last. Next, I’m going to gingerly walk over to the lab and set up some class stuff and tend to my little beasties.

I know that this is the least exciting news you’ve ever heard — some guy is wearing shoes and socks! NY Times, get a reporter on that! — so here’s something that’s almost as newsworthy: false widow spiders kill and eat mammals larger than themselves.

The video shows a noble false widow’s web, located outside a bedroom window of the house in Chichester, with a small mammal ensnared in the silk. Later analysis of the mammal’s remains helped researchers identify it as a pygmy shrew.

The shrew was still alive in the web, the researchers report, although it was only seen making a few slight movements near the beginning of its ordeal. That’s probably due to the spider’s powerful neurotoxic venom, which is known to cause rapid neuromuscular paralysis.

The spider was seen moving back and forth between the shrew and the rafters above the window, using silk to hoist the shrew upward about 25 centimeters, the researchers report.

After 20 minutes, the spider had lifted its prey into the rafters, partially out of view. It wrapped the shrew in silk, fed on it for three days, and then dropped what was left out of its web.

According to the researchers, “the remains of the shrew were nothing but fur, bones, and skin”.

Now you know why, despite my recent travails, I still made the effort to guarantee the few hundred false widows in my lab a twice-weekly feeding. I don’t feed them rodents, but they do love big juicy mealworms that are at least fifty times their mass. They got fed yesterday, and today Igor…I mean, me…must extract the drained corpses. Next feeding on Tuesday.


  1. Walter Solomon says

    In Australia, highly venomous redback spiders apparently eat the also highly venomous brown snakes.

    As for the false widow, I would like to see what happens if one tried to eat a grasshopper mouse.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    If I’d seen a live shrew in that predicament, I’d have extricated the poor bugger. Lest anyone say I should let nature take its course, that’s what I’d be doing! That would be natural for me.

  3. says

    Dear PZ, the shoes and mobility are great news. Please, don’t overdo it and cause a relapse. Also, how long before you breed false widows the size of a dog and teach them to hoist politicians up into the rafters and eat them?
    The repugs at the ‘debate’, roflmao!, were all excrement. But that rummyswummy is a real freakshow. His statement of ‘truth’ is:
    1) god is real
    2) there are two genders
    3) human flourishing requires fossil fuels
    4) reverse racism is racism
    5) an open border is no border
    6) parents determine the education of their children
    I don’t know whether to laugh my ass off or cry for the loss of sanity in this society.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    If you are a bona fide Igor, will the clan of Igors in Ankh-Morpork supply you with suitable organs if you own wear out?

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Shermanj @ 3
    Rummyswummy sounds like the perfect bait to lure JeanJacket down from the clouds (“Nope” reference).

    Walter Solomon @ 1
    This is a bit like the hypothetical situations in What If , like the T Rex going into the pit of the Sarlacc.

  6. says

    Obviously, any creature that would stoop so low as to pretend widow status will stop at nothing to get what they want.
    I’m reminded of the Far Side cartoon with the spiders building a web at the base of a playground slide, crowing “if we pull this off, we’ll eat like kings!”
    @#2: Yeah, I would be utterly horrified, I’m sure, but if the shrew was already mostly dead or incapacitated I would let nature take its course. Preferably out of my sight.
    It’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know.

  7. fergl says

    A few hundred false widows!! Only gonna finish one way. Cleaner comes into lab. Nothing but some fur bones and skin…

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    feralboy12 @8:

    It’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know.

    Yes, I know. I’m part of the pageant too. And my actions are largely informed by what allows me to sleep at night. I certainly don’t seek out animals who are suffering (life’s too short), but if one is within view, I might well intervene.

  9. bcw bcw says

    @3 There aren’t even “only two genders” when you’re talking about cell-phone cables and charger electrical plugs.

  10. says

    Sherman no point breeding dog sized false widow spiders to eat politicians. The rethuglicans will only recruit them to eat the dumbocrats.

  11. John Morales says

    Mobility is good. Presumably, prognosis is also good.

    No doubt you will exercise the best possible dynamics upon your body concordant with mobility and clinical outcomes — that is, be aware of how you move and take it easy. Once bitten, twice shy.

    Or: You are by now both informed and motivated. Yay!

  12. Artor says

    I don’t know, is PZ more of an Igor or is he a Renfield? He must serve his bloodsucking masters.

  13. seversky says

    Get some Birkenstocks and work on your Peter Lorre impression, not necessarily in that order.

  14. StevoR says

    @1. Walter Solomon :

    In Australia, highly venomous redback spiders apparently eat the also highly venomous brown snakes.
    As for the false widow, I would like to see what happens if one tried to eat a grasshopper mouse.

    Yup. See :

    A spider’s typical dinner menu might include insects, worms or even small lizards and frogs (SN: 2/3/21). But some arachnids have more adventurous tastes — they can eat snakes up to 30 times their size.

    Take the Australian redback. Not including legs, a female of this species of spider is only about the size of an M&M candy. But she can take down relatively big prey such as juvenile eastern brown snakes, which are among the most venomous serpents in the world. A snake that gets trapped in a redback’s web — a messy tangle of long, sticky silk threads that dangle to the ground — is quickly set upon by the spider, which subdues the struggling victim with more sticky silk before delivering a toxic bite that eventually kills the snake.

    “I find it cool that tiny Australian redback spiders can kill brown snakes,” says spider biologist Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland. “[It’s] very fascinating and a little frightening!”

    But redbacks are far from the only spiders with an appetite for snake. At least 11 different families of spiders feed on snakes, …

    Source :

  15. birgerjohansson says

    I know spiders are blocked from growing large by the bok ‘lungs’, but maybe you can raise them in an oxygen tent and give them oxygen tubes just before releasing them into congress?