Arthropod Predators of Anoles

Orange-legged wandering spider (Cupiennius coccineus) consuming house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) at Sirena Biological Station, Corcovado, Costa Rica

Red-legged wandering spider (Cupiennius coccineus) consuming a house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) at Sirena Biological Station, Corcovado, Costa Rica

When someone first asked me about the major predators of anoles, my first thought was to talk about curly-tailed lizards (Leiocephalus carinatus) in the Caribbean, vine snakes (Oxybelis spp.) in the neotropics [see my previous post on anole predation by O. aeneus at La Selva], and birds. I think that as herpetologists, we tend to fall into the trap of thinking of invertebrates as “lesser” taxa to be preyed upon by small vertebrates like lizards, and in turn for small vertebrates to be eaten by larger vertebrates.

I, too, when thinking about how selective pressures shape morphological variation in mainland and island habitats turned to fellow herps and birds as the primary predation pressure for mainland anoles. However, it wasn’t until I arrived in Costa Rica that I discovered the high prevalence of voracious arthropods, and I realized that our beloved lizards had much more to fear!

Orange wandering spider (Cupiennius getazi) with egg sac at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Orange wandering spider (Cupiennius getazi) with egg sac at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Red-legged wandering spider (Cupiennius coccineus) eating a pink katydid (Tettigoniidae: Phaneropterinae) at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Red-legged wandering spider (Cupiennius coccineus) eating a pink katydid (Tettigoniidae: Phaneropterinae) at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

A large adult female mantis (Phasmomantis championi) at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

A large adult female mantis (Phasmomantis championi) at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

Conehead katydid (Tettigoniidae: Conocephalinae: Vestria sp.) at La Tarde, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Conehead katydid (Tettigoniidae: Conocephalinae: Vestria sp.) at La Tarde, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

In a single night at La Selva, I could easily find dozens of large wandering spiders (Ctenidae), and if I pointed my headlamp higher in the trees I could see eyeshine from hundreds of spiders. Given the high density of large ctenids at La Selva, it is not unlikely that anoles and small tree frogs constitute a major portion of their diet. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if large arthropods are one of the most common predators of mainland anoles in some regions.

The same might be the case for giant mantids of the genera Macromantis and Phasmomantis, and conocephaline katydids sporting fearsome mandibles (e.g. Copiphora spp.). Since the invasive Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) in North America are well documented to prey on hummingbirds almost equal in size to the mantids [see Nyffeler et al. 2017], surely larger and bulkier species in the neotropics can take lizards much smaller than themselves. Even though wandering spiders and conehead katydids are primarily nocturnal hunters, I have heard many stories of these arthropods being implicated in anole and tree frog predation. Research looking into how ctenids and nocturnal katydids forage would help determine if they can actually detect sleeping anoles or if predation events occur from the arthropods simply running in to the anoles while on the move.

If anyone here on Anole Annals has any anecdotal or photographic records, please comment below.

To throw a twist on this discussion, is it possible for a spider to prey on a lizard two and a half times its size? A new paper about a vertebrate-eating jumping spider (Salticidae) describes just that! Considering arthropods as possible major players in anole predation could shed light on behavioral and ecological studies of mainland anoles.

Figure 1 from Nyfeller et al. 2017, showing female jumping spiders (Phidippus regius) consuming Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) and Cuban tree frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis)

Figure 1 from Nyfeller et al. 2017, showing female jumping spiders (Phidippus regius) consuming Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) and Cuban tree frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis)

Here are a few more spider photos to wrap up this blog post.

Jumping spider (Salticidae: Phiale cf. guttata) eating an assassin bug (Reduviidae)

Jumping spider (Salticidae: Phiale cf. guttata) eating an assassin bug (Reduviidae)

Red-legged wandering spider (Cupiennius coccineus) consuming house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) at Sirena Biological Station, Corcovado, Costa Rica

Another angle of a red-legged wandering spider (Cupiennius coccineus) consuming a house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) at Sirena Biological Station, Corcovado, Costa Rica

Threat display of a Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis) from Tárcoles, Costa Rica. A ctenid with medically significant venom.

Threat display of a Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis) from Tárcoles, Costa Rica. A ctenid with medically significant venom.

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