When I was on Facebook a couple of minutes ago, I saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks, for two reasons. It was an picture of an ugly spider, but the caption said that it was a bird.
I looked more closely to see if it was a bird that had developed some really amazing camouflage. Nope – definitely a spider.
And then I figured it out. It’s a picture of an Australian bird-eating spider (more precisely, an Eastern tarantula). But the caption said bird eating spider, leading me to believe that I was looking at a bird that was eating a spider.
Bottom line: Hyphens would have helped: bird-eating spider.
Just in case you’re a person who’s intimidated by hyphens (as I was for years), here’s another example:
man eating shark (a man with a knife, a fork, and a very large fish on a plate)
man-eating shark (keep your distance!)
Not that difficult after all!