Say hello to the Goliath birdeater spider

March 23, 2019, 9:23 a.m.
The Goliath bird-eating tarantula is nothing short of spectacular.
Photo: Brian Gratwicke/Flicker CC BY 2.0

Despite its name, this enormous spider is a gentle giant of sorts. The Goliath birdeater spider (Theraphosa blondi) can have a leg span of 11 inches. Only the giant huntsman spider has a longer leg span. But T. blondi beats out every other spider for mass, weighing up to 6 ounces. Imagine holding this eight-legged, dinner plate-sized creature in your hand!

The Goliath birdeater, as it's commonly called, lives in parts of the Amazon, primarily Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname and Venezuela. While they don't typically eat birds, they are large enough to do so. Instead they usually feast on mice, frogs, small rodents and invertebrates.

The species has poor eyesight and relies on the hairs on its legs and abdomen to sense what's going on around it. Those hairs are useful for other things, too. Should this spider find itself under attack, it can launch a maelstrom of sharp arrow-like hairs by rubbing its back legs against its abdomen. Small but sharp, these hairs can be incredibly painful if they hit they predator in the eyes or nose.

Their impressively lethal one-inch long fangs are used to pump their victims full of venom. Since they can't ingest their food as a solid, they must first reduce the prey's innards to liquid — thanks, to that venom — and slurp it in. No straw needed.

Not only are Goliath birdeaters gentle (unless you're a mouse!), they're also watchful mothers. Females lay between 50 to 200 eggs at a time and, according to National Geographic, "Hatchlings stay close to their mother until they fully mature at two to three years." That's an impressively long time for a spider to stick around. While the females can live up to a quarter of a century, the males only live three to six years on average.

As intimidating as the Theraphosa blondi may seem, they're not lethal or even harmful to humans. As the saying goes, these spiders are probably more afraid of you than you are of them. Indeed, they have plenty to fear from us. Goliath birdeaters are considered a delicacy in some areas, and in some cultures they are cooked on a spit.