THE GOLIATH BIRD EATER

The worlds biggest spider is a the Goliath Bird Eater. Theraphosa Blondi, it is an arachnid that is a member of the Tarantula family of spiders.  The Goliath Bird Eater was named as such by Explorers of the South American Jungles in the early 1900's when one such spider was observed eating a small bird.

Standing there aghast, they must have retorted " Gosh! look! a really big, in fact a goliath, bird eating spider!  " and the rest, as they say...is history!

These Tarantulas live in the rain forests of South America, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, French Guiana, Venezuela and other hot and humid places in other part's of the word.  They can grow to a diameter of almost one foot with their leg span and can weigh in at of over one hundred and twenty grams.

They live in burrows or small holes in the ground, that are either made by themselves or are old abandoned ones made by other animals.  They do not use any special strategy when they hunt for food, they don't build intricate webs or traps, leap twenty feet into the air or squirt poison at their intended prey.

Instead they rely purely on strength and speed to capture and wrestle with their prey and then to bite with their fangs and inject a venom that renders the quarry paralyzed.

Tarantulas are good fighters, masters of un-armed combat when they tackle that big insect as they are naturally very aggressive with bad temperaments, these guys have got attitude.

Although when they are bred in captivity and they get meals dropped in front of them every day and are pampered somewhat by their owners they can become a little more docile and appear to acclimatize quite well to there new 'comfortable' surroundings. 

Only venerable and experienced Tarantula keepers though should consider keeping a Goliath Bird Eater as a pet because of their severely aggressive nature.

Remember, a spider such as this will not associate with you, will not get friendly with you or acknowledge that you its nice kind owner like say a cat or a dog, they are not built  to think or act like that, rather...you are either food to them or you are not and that's it !  They are not furry little toys to play with.

A Tarantula retails for about a hundred dollars but I myself could never keep anything like this as a pet  as many people do in suburbia.  Primarily because Tarantulas have to be fed 'live' food, and I for one couldn't drop a live mouse into its vivarium and attentively watch and wait for the Tarantula to pounce on it.

In the wild if the mouse is caught by the Tarantula then that's fair play, law of the jungle etc but I could not condemn a nice furry friendly likable little mousy to such a frightening and horrid death...for the mouse at least.  I  Guess I'm too much a softy and sentimental, but I am an animal lover, so it stands to reason with me.

 

Photo credits to Ged Casserley of himself with a 'framed' Goliath Bird Eater

The Tarantula is carnivorous and even though the Goliath Bird Eater has been given this name, its true staple diet are invertebrates such as mealworms, moths, locusts, centipedes, smaller spiders and other insects, they can also eat vertebrates such mice, frogs and small lizards in fact anything that is not to big for the Tarantula to wrestle with.

Tarantulas do not have teeth to chew up their dinner, instead they inject an acid solution into their quarry and then suck up the disintegrated juices, very pleasant I'm sure !

When hunting the Tarantula will 'feel' its way along by assessing the different vibrations through the ground and movements in the air of passing quarry because by and large the Tarantula has very poor eyesight and in comparison to the size if itself its eyes are miniscule little dots that cluster in the center of its head.

Below is a good close up of a Tarantulas eyes, there are several eyes around a small dome shape on the center of its head.  The eyes are really just light sensitive membranes and give quite poor visual capabilities to the spider.

The female of the species like the male reaches adulthood in three years but unlike the male it has a life span of around 25 years whilst the male has a lifespan of only six years meaning it dies three years after reaching adulthood.

As the Tarantula grows it moults its skin, in that it sheds off the entire outer shell of itself in one piece and this outer shell can fool people into thinking its a dead but entire Tarantula.

Below is a photo of a Tarantulas moulted skin and as you can see, it looks just like an entire spider, but its not, its just an empty shell that the Tarantula has grown out of.

Photo credit to Ged Casserley

The male Tarantula has about three years to find a mate and impregnate her, He has to be careful too as the female is likely to decide that her mate is the next meal and can turn, kill and devour the male directly after impregnation.

Most Tarantulas have things called 'Tibia Spurs' which grow on the first pair of legs, these little hooks keep the females fangs at bay whilst the male mates but unfortunately nature has decided that the Giant Bird Eater should not have this useful apparatus and so when it mates, it has to be quick and then turn and run away fast.

Below is a photo showing one of these 'Tibia spurs'

Not many people are aware that Tarantulas actually have claws at the end of each leg. Sometimes even two claws, as in the photo below but they may also grow three claws.

Tarantulas do not have muscle and bone to move their legs, instead they have a fluid that is pressurized and this fluid extends  and contracts the joints as it is pumped rapidly back and forth.

In a way it could be said that the Tarantulas legs are hydraulically operated, and seeing as hydraulics are very powerful, it could be envisaged that the Tarantulas legs are equally as powerful and this would indeed help it when it tussles with its prey.

The female will give birth in several weeks time after impregnation to between one hundred to four hundred eggs out of which many eggs will die or be eaten by other little animals whilst a few will survive two months incubation to hatch into little baby Tarantulas, of these many will be eaten by other insects etc leaving but a few to grow to maturity.

The Goliath Bird Eating spider is not that greater a threat to people, they will only attack if cornered leaving them no way to escape and even then their huge 25 millimeter long fangs can only inject a venom that is relatively harmless to people, it has been reported that its more like a wasp sting than anything else and will produce only a mild swelling with a twinge of associated pain with no real ill effects.

The bite itself would generally be a dry bite  in that no venom would be injected as the Tarantula conserves its venom for 'dinner time' killing but it would still cause some tissue trauma and bleeding because of the puncture wounds.  Even so, you still would not want to find out how bad a bite is from one of these animals and it would be best to give them a lot of space. 

 

Tarantulas have a small defense mechanism in that they will rub their back legs together and their abdomens to create a hissing sound which probably replicates the sound of a snake to warn away possible predators.  This hissing sound can be heard up to twenty meters away too, so its quite loud.

Another defense mechanism of the Tarantula is to flick off a cloud of very fine very short and spiky hair shards, these hairs will greatly irritate the skin on contact, can be severe if in the eyes and worse the lungs if breathed in and it can take many hours for a person afflicted to get better.

DIFFERENT SPECIES

The White-Knee Tarantula see below, although not classed as a bird eater will not turn its nose up at eating any birds it could catch.  Tarantula spiders are all formidable foes to their prey, when out in the wild.

The Orange-Knee Tarantula as seen below, is very similar to the White-Knee and is probably the most common and best " known " Tarantula to the public.  This popularity  is due to is prominently colorful stripes around its eight legs.  Hence they are used in scary movies and often kept as pets.

The Cobalt-Blue Tarantula as seen below, is one of the least known to the public due to the fact that it has limited color and just looks plain ugly.  It is still very exotic, just not liked very much.

All of these different species of Tarantula are about the same size...the length and breadth of a mans hand.  The Goliath Bird Eater, however, is the one that grows the biggest and can outstretch a mans hand span.

THE GIFT OF THE GODS

Nobody apart from entomologist's and zoologists really like spiders, there is something inherent about them that profoundly effects us and makes us afraid and abhorrent of them and want to run a mile when we see them.   Unless of course you are a native tribesman living in the rain forests and jungles of South America or Venezuela.

To these people the Tarantula is called  The gift of the Gods  by them and offers a tasty snack, they are eaten with much enjoyment as a delicacy.  The tribesmen, more notably the Piaroha tribe in Venezuela, go out on hunting expeditions and catch any Tarantulas they come across on route.

They quickly grab them, fold their legs in and wrap them up in a leaf tied with twine and carry them until its snack time, where they are killed by being stabbed with a sharp twig in their underside then they are roasted in their skins in a small open fire or over hot coals and eaten as a tasty travelling snack.  A Tarantula is high in protein and will give a tribesman energy for the rest of the hunting trip.

I saw a documentary on these tribes on the Discovery channel a few years ago and noted that these guys use the Tarantulas fangs as toothpicks after the meal! Bon Appetit!

The Tarantula spider also forms part of the staple diet of Cambodians, who munch their way through these tasty snacks  everyday.  The little Cambodian girl seen below is enjoying a nibble of deep fried Tarantula...

...or fried, skewered and munched like a kebab as seen below...yummy!  These tasty treats  are often sold on Cambodian street corners similar to how "civilized" cities sell hotdogs on theirs!

This is one kind of meal that I will definitely not be trying out and hope not to see it on any á la carte any day soon!

THE OLD RED-KNEE

Just to mention here that my favorite Tarantula to look at...not eat...is the 'Mexican Red Knee' and I would say again that it is the most famous and most photographed of all Tarantula's due to its great color scheme.

When a Tarantula appears in the movies to create a scary scene such as the classic James Bond scene from You Only Live Twice  when James played by Sean Connery had a tarantula put into his bed and it crawls up over him, then its normally the Mexican Red Knee that's is used as it is so visually vivid.

I hope that you have found this page to be informative and interesting and that you enjoyed your visit to my site, I have more pages in the Natural World section of my website, why not check them out!

A new species of Tarantula spider has been discovered in Sri Lanka by scientists, and its a record breaker. The Tarantula, seen below, has a leg span of eight inches (20cm) and is one of the worlds largest spiders ever discovered!

The Tarantula has a distinctive light brown band around its body and has small blue-gray markings on its legs and upper body. It also has a dark gray diamond pattern running down its upper abdomen.  Its eight inch leg span is said to be the same span of an adults face, although I would not recommend placing this spider on your face to find out!  The Tarantula was discovered in the war torn areas of the South Asian country by scientists from the Biodiversity Education & Research Organization  (BER) based in Sri Lanka.

The Tarantula has been named Peocilotheria Rajaei  in tribute to a senior Police Officer called Michael Rajakumar Purajah.  This Police Officer greatly assisted the expedition team through the hazardous and dangerous jungle terrain to seek out the spider.  The area is greatly troubled by massive civil unrest and armed conflict, so the expedition was always at risk from attack. The team actually learned of the spiders existence three years ago in 2010 when villagers presented them within a dead male specimen that had been killed by them.  The scientists realised straight away that it was an unknown species, nothing like it ever been seen or recorded before.  So they made plans to find some living examples, so they could be researched and documented.

The spider in the images shown in these paragraphs was actually discovered near the village hospital, in the Doctors quarters.  This was a strange place to find the arachnid, as it now understood that they prefer well established old trees to make their home.  It is thought that these huge docile spiders were forced to relocate to old buildings like the Doctors quarters, due to the massive deforestation that is currently underway in the jungle areas. Chinese companies are paying thousands of contractors to strip the jungles and rain forests clean of much of their wood to make expensive flooring tiles.

The numbers of these huge Tarantulas are thought to have diminished as a result and hence are now classed as an endangered species.  It would be very ironic to have just discovered this new species for it then to become extinct over the next few years. In the image below we can see how the new Tarantula blends in very well with its environment, becoming very hard to see as a result.  It is due to the way that much of jungle life camouflages itself that new species of life remains largely undiscovered.

The species is thought to belong to the South American Goliath bird eater family, as also featured on this webpage.  This new species is said to be just as fast, just as intrepid and just as venomous as its cousins.  Research will soon discover just how venomous this new species is of course.  It is believed that the Peocilotheria Rajaei basically feeds on mice, snakes, lizards and small birds and that its bite would probably be very painful to a person but not deadly.

This is a very interesting find and is quite amazing that we are still discovering new and fascinating things out about our world.  However if conservation of our jungles and rain forests are not seriously considered then many undiscovered species may perish before we have even had time to discover them. If we stop buying exotic wooden flooring then this may help. So please don't buy it and save the spiders and other life that are threatened by zero empathy big city business programs.

 

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Page created October 4th 2008.   Updated April 4th 2012