If you’re an arachnophobe who has spent time on Facebook during the last week, you’re likely already keenly aware of the the picture of the South American Goliath bird-eating tarantula that has been going around, taken by wildlife photographer Piotr Naskrecki. Described as the size of a puppy, many have been hoping against hope that this nightmare-inducing creature has been photoshopped, exaggerated, or both. Sad to say, it hasn’t.
Naskrecki noticed the spider while in Guyana, a South American country between Venezuela and Suriname. He claims he initially thought it was a possum or some other small mammal. He soon became a bit unsettled when he realized it was actually a gigantic spider.
Image credit: Piotr Naskrecki
Despite the spider’s nickname, the Goliath bird eater doesn’t typically eat birds. Endemic to the rainforests in South America, this tarantula hunts on the ground, which limits how many birds it would even contact. Typically, the Goliath’s food of choice is earthworms and insects. However, it will also eat small rodents, snakes, or frogs if they are available.
The moniker “Goliath” is well-deserved, as it is considered to be the most massive species of spider on the planet. The spider has a legspan up to 11 inches (28 centimeters) and a body about the size of an adult’s fist. Altogether, it weighs about 6 ounces (170 grams) which is about the same as a medium-sized apple, or a puppy right after it is born. Naskrecki notes that the spider is so heavy, its footsteps sound like tiny horse hooves as they pound on the ground.
The spider certainly did not appreciate Naskrecki being on the ground and photographing it so closely, so it let him know by creating a hissing sound. Humans are much too large for Goliaths to attack as prey, so such attacks are usually only done in self-defense. When threatened, Goliaths rub their serrated hairy legs together, which generates a hissing sound audible from 15 feet away. The rubbing also releases the urticating hair into the air, which are irritating to skin and are used to deter anyone from coming too close. Naskrecki’s face took the brunt of the damage from the spider, as several of the bristles entered his eye. He explains on his blog that the experience left him with sore, watery eyes for days to come.
Image credit: Piotr Naskrecki
In another aggressive display to try to scare Naskrecki away, the spider showed its fangs in a threatening way. Tarantula fangs are up to 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) long, which are definitely large enough to pierce human skin and create a painful bite. The spider’s venom isn’t typically strong enough to kill someone who is not allergic to it, but will cause pain and nausea for days to come. Luckily, Naskrecki did not have to feel the business end of those fangs.
Though the Goliath is the most massive spider on the planet, the Giant Huntsman, discovered in Laos, has a slightly wider leg span.
If you’d like to read more about Naskrecki’s up close experience with this massive spider, be sure to read the entry on his blog, The Smaller Majority.
[Hat tip: LiveScience]
[All images are property of Piotr Naskrecki]