Irish scientists have revealed details of the first recorded incident of a noble false widow spider eating a bat in a family home.
The protected Pipistrelle bat was one of two caught in the spider’s web in the attic on consecutive days.
A larger adult bat was found alive and rescued but a smaller immature one was dead and partly consumed.
The incident, which happened in Britain, was investigated by scientists from the Ryan Institute in NUI Galway.
They have been tracking the spread of the noble false widow as it expands its territory far from its native home in Madeira and the Canary Islands.
They are also studying its venom, the symptoms it causes, the spider’s behaviour and what it needs to survive, thrive and expand.
This is the first time the spider has been found feeding on a mammal anywhere in the world.
A few years ago the team recorded one eating a protected native Irish lizard.
They say the noble false widow has the potential to become one of the world’s most invasive species of spider.
“We have been working on the noble false widow for the past five years and have learnt a great deal about this species,” said Dr MIchel Dugon, head of the Venom Systems Lab at the Ryan Institute.
“Yet we are still surprised by its ability to adapt to new environments and make the most of the resources available. It is truly a remarkable species.”
False widows have a fast-acting venom that works in a similar way to true widow spiders.
Although usually much less dangerous to humans than the true widow, it is able to capture and immobilise prey much larger than itself.
“False widow spiders, just as their close relatives’ black widow spiders, have extraordinary prey capture techniques and remarkably potent venom,” said Venom Systems Lab researcher, Aiste Vitkauskaite.
“It allows them to capture small vertebrate prey many times larger than the spider itself with surprising ease.”
That has implications for native Irish species and small protected animals.
“We know they are much more competitive than native spiders, and this further confirms their impact on prey species,” said Dr John Dunbar, a member of the research team.
The team are asking members of the public to email them at email@example.com to report sightings of the noble false widow spider.