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Discover The Biggest Spider In The World

goliath birdeater
Image via Depositphotos

As children, we may have all been scared of spiders. Still, many of the world’s population is suffering from arachnophobia, the extreme fear of spiders. 

Introduction

A Goliath bird-eating spider (Theraphosa blondi), in daylight, crossing a path in a tropical rainforest, South America. Image via Depositphotos

Even though spiders don’t bite (unless intimidated), their multi-legged body is spooky enough to terrify a normal human being. 

But imagine yourself coming across a spider equal in size to an average adult hand. Can you feel the goosebumps on your body at the mere thought of it? We can understand how you feel.

The spiders in our surroundings may be relatively small in size and more elusive to a distant human eye. However, larger species of spiders exist in the world today that are scarier than the usual ones we see in our everyday lives. 

So, let’s dive further to learn what classifies a spider as ‘big.’

Identifying The Biggest Spider In The World

tarantula
A tarantula (species unclear) darting around. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When searching for the biggest spider in the world, you may only have the size of its body in your mind. But there is more to it. 

A spider can be classified as huge according to its weight/mass or the overall length of its body. In this regard, the biggest spider in the world in terms of in terms of its length and appearance is the Giant Huntsman Spider. 

However, the Goliath birdeater has become the world’s biggest spider due to its massive body size, weight, and leg span. On top of everything, the amount of terror that prevails due to its presence is also immeasurable!

Goliath Birdeater – The World’s Biggest Spider

goliath birdeater
A bird-eating tarantula. Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Goliath birdeater – scientific name Theraphosa blondi – is the biggest spider in the world at present and and belongs to the Theraphosidae family of tarantulas (hairy spiders). 

The weird lineage names are not the only fascinating facts about the birdeater!

Size

goliath birdeater
Goliath birdeater. Snakecollector, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Its tremendously large body weight of approximately 170 grams (6 ounces), body length of 13 centimeters (5 inches), and leg span of 30 centimeters (12 inches) make it worthy of holding the tag of the biggest spider in the world.

Name – “Birdeater”

goliath birdeater
The Goliath bird-eating spider. Image by Israel Delgadillo Figueroa via Pexels

Moreover, as its name implies, the gigantic insect-beast feeds on birds, but not very often. The spider was named ‘birdeater’ when an eighteenth-century carving was discovered, showing a tarantula family member feeding on a hummingbird. 

This amazing fact implies that the spider is big enough to feed on a whole bird! Astonishing, isn’t it?

Physical Appearance

goliath birdeater
You can see the Goliath birdeater’s variegated hairs on its legs. Image via Depositphotos

Apart from its vast body, the Goliath birdeater has several other astonishing features associated with its appearance. 

The body of a birdeater is covered in dark, light brown, and gold variegated hairs. They have eight legs but, unlike most spiders, no antenna. 

The anatomy of a birdeater consists of two body parts – the combined head and neck and the abdomen. 

Eyesight

goliath birdeater
The Goliath birdeater belongs to the tarantula family Theraphosidae. Image by Christopher Cassidy via Unsplash

The most surprising fact is that, despite having eight eyes, the eyesight of a Goliath birdeater is weak to such an extent that they rely only upon their hairy body to detect vibrations or movements in their surroundings.

Catching Prey 

goliath birdeater
Goliath birdeater. Ltshears, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, these predators have two hairy projections on both sides of their heads called pedipalps and two-inch-long fangs on their bodies. These play an essential role in their diet as the pedipalps help grab the victim, and fangs inject venom to kill the prey. 

Beware Of The Rainforests, Their Most Common Habitat

Amazon rainforest
Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Image via Neil Palmer/CIAT, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To avoid the eye of these hairy critters, you must know where they reside and hunt for a living. After all, you don’t want to pass out at the sight of these monstrous creatures, right? 

The most common habitat for a spider is its beautiful and intricate silk-woven web that almost everyone is familiar with. However, a Goliath birdeater behaves the opposite way. 

The Goliath bird-eating spiders dwell in swampy or marshy areas in rainforests like the Amazon in northern South America. The creatures love residing in deeply hidden excavations and can be found in the rainforests of Suriname, Guyana, Brazil, and Venezuela. 

Home – Burrows

burrow
Goliath birdeaters live in burrows. Image via Depositphotos

The deep caves may already exist in a shrouded area, for example, underneath a log or a rock, or the spider may dig them out by itself. 

Moreover, being a nocturnal species, the bird-eating spiders do not hesitate to spend their day in the deeply hidden burrows and crawl out of their dwellings at night to start the predating party! 

The Average Lifespan

goliath birdeater
Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula at Cincinnati Zoo. Ltshears, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a wildlife lover, you might have the sudden urge to tame this gigantic spider species. However, you will be sad to know that your fellow pet may not live that long with you. 

The male Goliath birdeater has a lifespan of around three to six years since they die as soon as they mate for the first time. 

However, a female Goliath birdeater enjoys the privilege of living longer for around ten to fifteen years. An even more astonishing fact is that a female can live the longest for up to twenty-five years. 

Reproduction Stage One – Moulting

goliath birdeater
Underside view of adult female Goliath birdeater while she is moulting. Heftrdevistating, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Before mating, a female birdeater must undergo moulting, which is an integral part of their growth and life cycle. 

Moulting is a phenomenon of skin shedding, similar to the one experienced by snakes. A Goliath birdeater escapes from its old exoskeleton and develops a new and more oversized coat while preparing their bodies for mating. 

Had the female not encountered the process of moulting before copulation, she would lose all the gathered sperm during the next moulting course. 

You can visit here to explore moulting and its stages in detail.

Reproduction Stage Two – Finding The Mate

Goliath birdeater
Goliath birdeater female on her back. Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As soon as both the mates are ready for copulation, the male birdeater visits the female habitat to lure her out. Subsequently, mating occurs.

The male Goliath birdeater, identified through its mating hook found on the bottom of its front leg, grabs its mate through the hook and locks itself in the female fangs. This is a perfect way of holding the female still while mating. 

The male birdeater must escape immediately after mating to prevent the female from killing or injuring it.

Reproduction Stage Three – Depositing The Eggs

goliath birdeater web
Goliath birdeater’s sperm web. Mileau, CC BY-SA 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Once the mating becomes successful, the female Goliath birdeater weaves a silk web to lay around a hundred to two-hundred eggs at a time. The eggs become fertilized as soon as they drop out of the female’s body. 

After laying the eggs, the birdeater cloaks them in the shape of a ball (approximately the size of a tennis ball) that may contain around seventy spiderlings. She may leave them to hatch in her dwelling or carry them around. 

As a defensive mechanism, the female guards the egg sacs by covering them with stinging hairs until they hatch. 

Hatching

The Goliath birdeater lays her eggs in a web and wraps them up like a sac. Image by ArachnoTube via YouTube

The process typically lasts around six to eight weeks when the eggs finally hatch to release the baby spiders. 

The tiny creatures continue residing in the female habitat till the time of their first molt when they eventually become independent and look for their own home and survival. 

The spiderlings take around two to three years to mature completely.

Defensive Mechanisms

goliath birdeater
Goliath birdeater in a defensive stance. Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re wondering why such a scary creature would need to defend itself when no one would bother going near it, they are actually a treat for some mammals (and even human beings). 

The bird-eating tarantulas are not actually in danger in the wild. However, they are the most vulnerable during the process of moulting when their bodies are delicate and unable to move properly. 

Such is the vulnerability of the biggest spider in the world during molting that even smaller insects can kill the creature quickly. 

Therefore, several interesting biological phenomena are incorporated into the behavior of a Goliath birdeater, making it a fascinating species to discover more about. 

For instance, the act of stridulation is frequently carried out by these creatures when they feel threatened by larger animals surrounding their habitats. 

Stridulation

Goliath birdeater
A Goliath bird-eating spider. This is the largest spider according to the Guinness World Records. Sheri (Bellatrix on Flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This complex biological term is used for the hissing sounds generated due to the vibration created when two bodily structures rub against one other. 

Stridulation is a common practice in the animal kingdom. For instance, crickets stridulate on summer nights to attract their mates. However, stridulation in tarantulas is for an entirely different use, that is, for self-defence. 

As you are already familiar with the hairy appearance of the bird-eating spiders, they rub the hairs around their mouth to create a perceptible hissing sound (that might be very scary to experience!). 

Generally, they create the hissing noise to scare away any potential threat from large animals, such as to prevent them from stepping on the spiders or to alarm their predators. 

Furthermore, stridulation is accompanied by another safeguarding process by the bird-eating spiders, where they release stinging hair from their abdomen as an attack for defence. 

Their predators soon get adapted to their strategies and tend to avoid or be more careful before making an attack.

Venomous Sting

Goliath Tarantula
Goliath birdeater in a defensive stance. Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stridulation is not the only defence mechanism of this bird-eating tarantula. It has a more vicious way of getting back to its attackers. 

Firstly, the world’s biggest spider shows off by standing on its hind legs in a threatening position. The real deal starts if the predator remains adamant and does not back off! 

The two fangs present on their body contain poison glands to release venom in case of a severe threat. The venomous sting is enough to kill a smaller mammal and cause swelling and irritation in larger mammals. 

However, the spider prefers not to use this defence mechanism very often except when hunting for prey, since producing the venom is a painful and time-consuming process. 

A friendly piece of advice: It is rather best to not get on the wrong side of our fellow spooky friends because they can cause you more harm than good, without any doubt! 

Food And Diet

Ruby-throated hummingbird sitting on a wooden pole. Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Goliath birdeaters have been observed consuming birds, specifically hummingbirds, but this is actually quite rare. Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The name of this spider would actually make you believe that they feed on birds. The truth is, they rarely ever hunt birds! 

The bird-eating spiders are huge enough to feed on birds, but their predatory abilities extend to eating other animals like frogs, tiny snakes, insects, lizards, bats, and rats. They may even feed on bird hatchlings that are easy to consume. 

Usually, a spider lays down a web to trap its prey and feed on it. However, that is not the case with these gigantic creatures as they have no unique technique for hunting or trapping their prey. 

Instead, they tend to opt for the more straightforward way – sneaking off! The bird-eating spiders catch their prey off-guard while sneaking at night. They immediately sting them with the venom present in their fangs to stun the target. 

The feast starts afterward when they carry the delicious food to their burrows to relax and eat calmly without any obstruction. 

An astonishing fact is that the biggest spider in the world does not have any teeth to chew its food! That sounds odd, right? 

However, nature has equipped them with an even fantastic ability to discharge digestive juices onto their prey to break down their skin tissues and suck up the delicious liquid as their meal.

Danger For Human Beings

Goliath birdeater
Goliath birdeater. Fernando Flores from Caracas, Venezuela, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of being the biggest spider in the world, human beings don’t need to worry too much about encountering them. If you’re scared that a venomous bite by this creature can kill you, we can assure you that will not happen. 

The venom of this bird-eating spider is not that harmful to a human being. Its severity is equivalent to that of a wasp sting. But, you must never take the risk and keep your distance because the venomous fangs are not the ones to spare you! 

The bird-eating tarantula is likely to stridulate (make the hissing sound) as soon as it encounters you to hint of backing off. They will immediately spare you if you obey their command and back off. 

However, if you don’t withdraw, you will have to bear with the stinging hair attacking your skin, eventually leading to irritation in the eyes and lungs. The hairs might be more harmful to a human being than the venom!

The Goliath Birdeater As A Tasty Meal

goliath birdeater
Goliath birdeater. Image by Angga Pramadita via Unsplash

Despite the dangers that it comes with, a Goliath birdeater is considered a savory meal by the local population in northeastern South America. 

After successfully hunting this spider, the stinging hairs are removed from the spider’s body to make it harmless and then it is wrapped in banana leaves to roast. You might want to puke at the thought of it, but the locals say the meal is actually delicious. 

The taste resembles that of prawns and shrimps and its moist ambience. Sounds yummy, right? 

Unfortunately(or maybe fortunately), they won’t be on the local restaurant menu anytime soon!

Comparison With Other Huge Arachnids

giant huntsman spider
Giant huntsman spider (Heteropoda maxima) – the biggest spider in terms of length and appearance. Petra & Wilfried from Germany, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Although the giant bird-eating tarantula is the largest spider in the world today, it is not the biggest insect to have ever existed. Scarily, species of spiders even larger than the Goliath bird-eating spider have existed. 

This change may have occurred as a result of evolution. Habitat and environmental changes have greatly affected the sizes and lifestyles of insects, causing them to become what they are in the present day. 

What Does The Future Hold For Them?

goliath birdeater
Goliath birdeater female – Dorsal side – 23,5 cm – Mounted specimen by Philippe Annoyer Locality: French Guiana, FranceMuséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The giant spooky creatures might live for a long time on the earth if human beings conserve their habitats and hunting behavior. 

Man is a great threat to the wildlife reserves. The constant urge to carry out urbanization is a serious threat to all the wildlife that exists at present.

Therefore, it is the duty of humankind to take care of the conservation of wildlife species, including the Goliath bird-eating spiders, to keep a balance in nature and not disrupt the ecosystem as a whole. 

The Final Word

YouTube video

By now, you might have grasped all the vital knowledge you need to understand the lifestyle of the biggest spider in the world, the Goliath birdeater. 

Despite its enormous size and scary appearance, it is a relatively calm species of spider that does not interfere with its surroundings unless looking for food or safeguarding itself. 

The processes and living cycle of these gigantic insects do nothing but compel us to praise nature for giving off such unique species of wildlife to the world that are a treat to understand and ponder upon.

Goliath bird-eating spider. Image via Depositphotos

If you like to read more about spiders, also have a look at the most deadliest spiders and flying spiders in the world. 

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