Spiderhunter (genus Arachnothera)

The other day I was reading a book for my book club and I happened to casually flip through the remaining pages of the book. A brown spot in the pages caught my attention (this was a used book), and my boundless curiosity forced me to investigate. When I turned back to the page, I found, to my horror, that the spot was in fact a crushed spider. I threw the book across the room and haven’t touched it since.

I tell this story to remind you all of the unwavering fear I have of spiders, which is why today’s animal is super special awesome. Any creature with the words ‘spider’ and ‘hunter’ in its name is automatically one of my favourite animals (unless of course the animal is the famous ‘Spider man-eating hunter’ — those are not cool at all).

A spiderhunter waiting to grab some nectar. I think they look funny.  Image credit: JJ Harrison via Wikipedia

A spiderhunter waiting to grab some nectar. I think they look funny.
Image credit: JJ Harrison via Wikipedia

There isn’t even just one species of spiderhunter — there are eleven of them! These birds live in south and southeastern Asia, from India to the Philippines and to Indonesia in the south. They aren’t too picky about what habitat they live in, as long as it’s a forest.

Spiderhunters are weird-looking birds. They have long, curved bills, which make them look quite funny. The tongues of spiderhunters are designed to form a tube for most of the length of the bill. They are usually between 13 and 22 cm of length, which makes them some of the biggest birds in the sunbird family. Most species of spiderhunters have fairy drab plumage, with olive-green backsides and white or yellow breasts. There is no sex differences in plumage in spiderhunters.

Spiderhunters do eat spiders, which is lovely. Their long bill helps them grab spiders right from the centres of their webs, something I would never, ever want to try. Spiderhunters don’t just eat spiders, though. They also consume a number of other delectable creatures, as well as nectar from flowers. That special ‘tube tongue’ of theirs is perfect for sucking nectar out of flowers. Because of this spiderhunters are important pollinators for some plants, though apparently spiderhunters don’t like helping plants, for they are known for ‘robbing’ plants of their nectar — which involves piercing a hole in the side of a flower to get to the nectar without getting covered in pollen.

A naked-faced spiderhunter, chilling on some flowers.  Image credit: Limchiu, via Wikipedia

A naked-faced spiderhunter, chilling on some flowers.
Image credit: Llimchiu, via Wikipedia

Spiderhunters are monogamous birds, and both sexes help incubate the eggs. The female, however, is left with the daunting task of building the nest all on her own. This is especially difficult because of the way spiderhunters construct their nests: they suspend them from big leaves, such as banana leaves or palm fronds. To do this the birds either connect the nest to the leaf using spider silk or they weave fibres through the support leaf. It seems like a lot of work for a nest, but I guess it works pretty well.

Although I’m a little disappointed that spiderhunters don’t exclusively and aggressively destroy all spiders, they are still some of my favourite birds. After all, the thought of eating even one spider makes me want to run screaming in fear, so these birds definitely have my respect.

Cover image credit: Rushenb via Wikipedia

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