A big hairy spider

Are you feeling brave? Face the Goliath birdeater spider. Image: Bellatrix CC-BY-SA 2.0

Written by Julia Cleghorn

Imagine you’re walking on your own through the forest, late at night, and suddenly stumble across a giant, hairy spider. Frightening thought? Best not to dwell on it too much then. It did happen, though, to an entomologist – and what better day to discuss it than Halloween!

The spider was a Goliath birdeater tarantula, and the lucky entomologist to make the rare sighting was Piotr Naskrecki. He spotted the spider in the deep rainforests of Guyana, South America.

The Goliath birdeater is the largest spider in the world: about the size of a dinner plate. It sports some rather imposing two-inch fangs, but its venom isn’t deadly to humans.

When Piotr made the discovery, he first thought it was a small, furry mammal. When he realised what he was looking at – as mentioned in his blog – he was “ecstatic about finally seeing one of these wonderful, almost mythical creatures in person”. Clearly, he was the right person to have had this unique experience.

Despite their potentially hair-raising qualities, these spiders are pretty interesting creatures. For starters, they make a distinct clicking noise as they walk, described by Piotr as “not unlike that of a horse’s hooves hitting the ground (albeit, admittedly, not as loud)”. When threatened, they create a hissing sound by rubbing their leg hairs together. They can even release a cloud of hair from their abdomen – something Piotr was the victim of, causing him to “itch and cry for several days”.

And, do they live up to their name by eating birds? Well, they can, but they generally feed on smaller creatures that are much easier to catch, such as earthworms. So, birds don’t have to worry too much, and neither do you unless you’re planning on a late-night stroll in a South American rainforest anytime soon.

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