Arachnophobia is the (perfectly rational) fear of spiders, and it is a very common fear for us humans to have. It’s believed that a fear of snakes and spiders is a deeply embedded instinct to keep us alive. Now, just imagine you’re traipsing through the rainforest and come across a “monster-sized” arachnid like the Goliath birdeater!
Of course, they call it that for a reason, and it implies this is no teensy-weensy spider.
And yet, we are often just as fascinated by some of the horrifying things that we fear. Wince though we may, we are strangely compelled to take a closer look and explore the hairy-legged hunter of the rainforest. We want to watch it move, eat, and strike! Well then, you asked for it; here are eight horrifying facts about the massive Goliath birdeater spider.
1. The Goliath birdeater is the largest species of spider in the world.
Classified as a tarantula, a large type of spider with hairy legs, some Goliaths have a leg span of up to a foot with a body that measures as much as 12 centimeters. They can weigh as much as half a pound (approx. 227 grams).
2. Goliath birdeaters rarely eat birds in spite of their name.
Rather, like other tarantulas, the Goliath subsists mostly on worms, lizards, frogs, insects, and rodents—which are still pretty huge prey for an arachnid to be hunting down and eating.
3. These 8-legged hunters do not spin webs to catch their prey.
Instead, the Goliath blends in with the leafy forest floor of the rainforest and uses stealth to avoid detection before ambushing unsuspecting meals. The Goliath is a burrow-dwelling spider rather than a web dweller. Females do spin webs into which they lay 50 to 200 eggs, which are then wrapped into an egg sack and carried around with her—a unique behavior of this particular tarantula.
4. The Goliath’s hairs help it to hunt.
Like other tarantulas, the Goliath birdeater has very poor eyesight. Instead of using its vision to hone in on prey, it uses super-sensitive hairs on its body to detect vibrations in the air to sense movement in its surroundings. This allows it to detect its target and strike when the time is right.
5. Goliaths make a defensive rattling sound that sounds like a rattlesnake.
In order to warn off potential threats, the Goliath birdeater may stroke the hairs on its abdomen with its legs to produce a surprisingly loud rattling sound that can be heard as far away as 15 feet.
At the same time, these hairs, which are barbed, are then also shot into the air as a defense mechanism. These hairs can irritate the skin and eyes.
6. The Goliath uses a neurotoxin to hunt and kill its prey.
Using a pair of fangs nearly an inch long, the Goliath easily pierces the flesh of its prey while injecting toxic venom. The bite is lethal to its prey but is not enough to kill humans. Unless allergies or infection are involved, swelling and discomfort is about the worst we would expect.
Without any teeth to chew or tear its prey, the Goliath consumes its food by regurgitating digestive fluid onto the soft tissue of its prey, turning it into liquid. The Goliath then proceeds to suck the carcass dry, leaving nothing but skin, bones, and hair remaining.
7. Goliath birdeaters are able to regrow lost limbs.
Should this giant spider lose one of its eight legs, it has the power to regrow them during a process of molting its skin. Fluid pressure in its body can pop out a section of its carapace (the exoskeleton covering the spider). This protrusion is pumped with fluid and becomes a brand-new leg where the old one was lost.
8. This spider species can live up to two decades.
Although male Goliaths typically die a few months after mating and live for around five to six years, females live much longer. In human care, they can live 10 to 15 years. Some have even lived to be 25 years old.
Thumbnail Credit: Video Screenshot | National Geographic