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Tarantula being eaten alive fights its way out of a toad's mouth

If you need a lesson in why you should never give up, take it from this western desert tarantula escaping from the mouth of a hungry toad.

This photo, of a live western desert tarantula almost completely consumed inside the mouth of a hungry Sonoran Desert toad, should be made into a motivational poster. Headline it something like: "Don't give up until you're toad-ally beaten," or "Leg it out, and you can beat any bad day."

Because as much as it looks like the tarantula is on its way to Spider Valhalla, it pulled off what seemed impossible. It lived to crawl another day.

Michael Bogan, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, took the photo Sunday in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in Tucson. First he saw the toad, then he realized from the wiggling legs sticking out of its mouth that its battle for a spider smorgasbord was still in progress.

Michael Bogan took this photo of a toad eating a tarantula, but the plucky spider didn't give up.

Michael Bogan

As Bogan and a graduate student watched, he saw the toad grimacing in pain, and actually saw the toad's throat being pushed out in the shape of spider fangs.

"I soon realized that I could see the spider moving through the skin of the toad's throat, and it looked like the tarantula's mouth parts were pushing against the toad's throat, likely biting it," Bogan said. "That, combined with the stinging hairs of the tarantula's abdomen, seemed to be causing a lot of pain for the toad -- its eyes were opening and closing like crazy -- almost wincing. Then about 45 seconds after we found the battle, the toad suddenly retched and the tarantula came flying out of its mouth. The tarantula quickly limped away as fast as it could, looking quite shaken. The toad sat stunned for 30 seconds or so, and then hopped away down the hillside."

The tarantula looked damaged but not destroyed after its ordeal.

"I think the tarantula will survive," Bogan said. "It seemed to have a couple of damaged legs -- which wouldn't be a surprise given the angles that those poor legs were jammed into -- but they can do just fine with six legs. Also, it was covered in slime and digestive juices, but it didn't seem to have any other external tissue damage. I think both species were totally in shock about what just happened."

There's a lesson here, for those of us who might feel trapped in some way in life, Bogan said.

"It's not over till it's over -- that was actually the line that ran through my head when I saw the tarantula leap away," he said. "Even when things are at their darkest, like halfway down the throat of a toad, there's always hope for springing back out into the light."

Thought the spider was a goner after seeing the first photo? Nope, it escaped its dance with becoming dinner, and crawled off into the desert, with two damaged legs.

Michael Bogan

(Via National Geographic)