Nature’s Amazing Ways: Toad vs. Tarantula

  • Sumo

Not many people know this about me, but I am such a nature lover – and always have been – that I pursued and obtained a degree in Wildlife Ecology for my Bachelor’s. I was blessed to be raised on a country place (60 acres) that had about every ecosystem one could expect to encounter in southern Oklahoma (woods/meadows/ravines /springs/ponds) and I spent much of my free time outdoors, observing our abundant fauna and flora.

Nature stories have always intrigued me, but I wasn’t expecting a nature story when I read, many years ago, the autobiography of Frank Eaton (1869-1958), a real Old West cowboy who, under the nickname of “Pistol Pete,” became the inspiration for the Oklahoma State University mascot. (That’s him in the photo above.) And, eventually, the mascot of both the University of Wyoming and New Mexico State University. Incidentally, just over a year ago, conducted a survey of sports fans and proclaimed that Pistol Pete is, hands down, the favorite sports mascot in America.

For a webpage that displays a photo of the real-life Frank Eaton, aka Pistol Pete, along with a photo of his namesake/mascot, plus a lot of interesting background, go here.

At any rate, the book Pistol Pete: Veteran of the Old West (Little, Brown, and Company, 1952) includes this anecdote:

“One day Charlie and I were sitting under a tree resting when we saw some weeds moving. We thought it might be a snake so we went out to see. We sneaked up to the weeds and looked over the tall grass. In a little clearing was a toad and a tarantula fighting like the devil. The tarantula wasn’t very large, just about as big around as a pint cup, but the toad was pretty good-sized. Every little while the toad would stop fighting and go over and eat a few bits of a weed. He always went back to the same weed and ate just a few of the leaves, then he would go back and fight some more. The tarantula would just stay there and wait until he came back.

“The fight wasn’t getting anywhere and Charlie and I wanted to see more action so Charlie said to the toad, ‘Get in there and fight, darn you. Quit stopping to eat and do your fightin’,’ and he pulled up the weed and threw it away.

“Pretty soon the toad came back for another bite of the leaves. He looked around for the little weed but it was gone. He hopped around frantically, looking for the weed, then he fell over and in less than half a minute he was stone dead.

“Charlie and I looked at each other. Not until then had we realized that the little weed was an antidote for the tarantula’s poison. We both felt terrible and would have given anything to undo what we had done. We searched everywhere for the little weed, but the grass was high and there were all kinds of weeds so we couldn’t find it. We two ignorant human beings had stood there and that little toad had shown us a remedy that might have helped all mankind, but we could not even recognize God’s handiwork!”  pp. 255-256

Incidentally, for those who are skeptical that a toad would attack a tarantula, there is this Youtube video that I found moments ago. The lighting is dim, but the story is plain enough.

In The Foxfire Book (Anchor Books, 1972, edited by Eliot Wigginton), a volume of Appalachian lore, a man named Harley Carpenter related a similar story, though it involved two snakes:

“They was two fellas a’goin’ along one time in th’ woods, an’ saw two snakes a’tangled up fightin’. They just stopped and watched ’em. It was a big black snake and a rattlesnake. The black snake’d work all the time to get wrapped around an’ get up next to his neck an’ head, you know. Rattlesnake, he kept bitin’ him an’ pushin’ him back.

“And said directly that black snake just quit an’ wheeled and run. Said, ‘I reckon the fight’s over.’ It wadn’t, though, fer here he come back, an’ they hooked up fer a fight again. An’ said directly th’ rattlesnake pecked ‘im again, an’ he fit [fought] just a little more with him and took off in the same direction he did in the first.

“So when he come back and they went t’fightin’, why, he bit ‘im again. And while they’s doin’ the fightin’, way I always heerd it, one a’these men follered the’ black snake. An’ there was a kind’a a bunch of weeds a’standin’ there, an’ that black snake went out a lookin’ about an’ directly he seed it an’ made a run fer it and grabbed off some of it an’ eat it, and back he went fer his fight.

“An’ that man just reached down there an’ just pulled that up an’ had it in his hand. An’ the next time that black snake went back fer his weed, he couldn’t find it since th’ man had pulled it up. He hunted an’ hunted around there an’ couldn’t find any like it, an’ directly he sort’a keeled over on his side, and in a few minutes he ‘uz dead.

“Never knowed what weed it was, but looks suspicious like it might work fer humans.”

pp. 299-300.

JESSE here: I read the Pistol Pete account many years ago, and it stuck in my mind as one of those might-be-true accounts of one of nature’s oddities. Then this year I stumbled onto the Foxfire account. Who knows if these are accurate accounts, but they are intriguing. Why one creature would suffer venomous bites (just the fang punctures would have had to have been dreadful costs to incur) just for a meal is a strange thing. But I did see, once, a television documentary that showed a monitor lizard suffering cobra bites from a king cobra it was attacking, so it seems that that can indeed be the case. The thought of God, as Creator, providing vegetation that gives instant relief from toxic venom(s) is just another interesting ponderable in this endlessly fascinating world we inhabit.

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