If you are afraid of spiders, you might want to skip this article. But if you are curious about the amazing diversity of life on our planet, you might want to learn more about the largest spider on earth: Theraphosa blondi, also known as the Goliath bird-eating tarantula.
This South American spider is not only the heaviest, but also the longest-legged spider in the world. It can weigh up to 6 ounces (170 grams) and have a leg span of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters). That’s about the size of a dinner plate! It belongs to the family of tarantulas, which are large hairy spiders with venomous fangs.
Despite its common name, the Goliath bird-eating tarantula rarely eats birds. According to Gustavo Hormiga, a spider expert from George Washington University, T. blondi mainly feeds on insects. “They are generalist predators, and if they encounter other vertebrates, such as a small mouse or a lizard, they can also eat them,” Hormiga says.
But don’t expect this Goliath to use a giant web to lure its prey into a trap – T. blondi hunts for food the old-fashioned way, using its large fangs to bite and kill. The largest spider on earth, like most spiders, produces venom, but it is not very toxic to humans. Bites have been described as wasp stings, but they rarely require medical attention.
How Does the Largest Spider on Earth Live
The Goliath bird-eating tarantula lives in burrows under the forest floor, which it lines with silk for extra stability. If a mammal tries to dig up its burrow, T. blondi will find a more useful weapon than venom: hairs on its abdomen. (Technically, they are called setae, since only mammals have hair, but even scientists use the more popular term in conversation.)
“They have the shape of little harpoons if you look at them under a microscope,” Hormiga says, which gives the hairs the ability to embed into skin. “These spiders very quickly rub their fourth pair of legs against their abdomen to release hairs that then fly through the air. They are very itchy.”
However, the hairs don’t have to fly through the air to cause harm – researchers and pet owners should handle bird-eating tarantulas with gloves. For large animals, such as humans, the hairs just irritate and cause itching, but they can be fatal for smaller mammals, such as mice.
Female T. blondi lay from 50 to 150 eggs in a giant sac that can reach 30 millimeters in diameter. They cover the sac with hairs to deter predators. It takes about two to three years for these spiderlings to mature; they spend a significant amount of time living with their mother in her burrow until they are old enough to take care of themselves.
How Can You See the Largest Spider on Earth
The Goliath bird-eating tarantula is native to northern South America, especially Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana and Suriname. It prefers humid and warm habitats, such as rainforests and swamps. It is not endangered, but it faces threats from habitat loss and illegal pet trade.
If you want to see this impressive creature in person, you might want to visit some zoos or aquariums that have them on display. For example, you can see T. blondi at the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo², where it peacefully rests in the shade of plants, even if in a closed terrarium.
However, if you are not a fan of spiders or traveling, you can always watch some videos or documentaries about them online. You might be surprised by how fascinating and beautiful these animals are.
What Are Some Other Interesting Facts About Spiders
Spiders are among the most diverse and successful groups of animals on earth. There are more than 48,000 species of spiders described so far³, and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They range in size from less than 0.1 inch (2 millimeters) to more than 12 inches (30 centimeters), as we have seen with T. blondi.
Spiders have many amazing adaptations that help them survive and thrive in different environments. For example:
- Spiders have eight eyes, but not all of them see well. Some rely more on touch or vibration to sense their surroundings.
- Spiders have spinnerets at the end of their abdomen that produce silk from special glands. Silk is a strong and flexible material that spiders use for various purposes, such as building webs, wrapping prey, making egg sacs or parachuting.
- Spiders have two body segments: cephalothorax and abdomen. They also have eight legs attached to their cephalothorax, which are divided into seven segments each.
- Spiders breathe through openings called spiracles on their abdomen or cephalothorax. Some have simple lungs called book lungs that consist of thin plates of tissue arranged like pages of a book. Others have tracheae that are tubes that carry air directly to their tissues.
- Spiders are carnivorous and feed mainly on insects and other arthropods. Some can also eat small vertebrates or even other spiders. They usually inject venom into their prey through their fangs to immobilize or kill them.
- Spiders reproduce sexually and most of them practice courtship rituals before mating. Male spiders transfer sperm to female spiders using specialized appendages called pedipalps that are located near their mouthparts.
- Spiders molt several times during their life cycle as they grow bigger. Molting is a process where they shed their old exoskeleton and emerge with a new one.
Spiders are fascinating creatures that deserve our respect and admiration. They play an important role in nature by controlling pest populations and providing food for other animals.
The largest spider on earth is Theraphosa blondi or Goliath bird-eating tarantula – a giant hairy spider that can weigh up to 6 ounces (170 grams) and have a leg span of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters). It lives in South America and feeds mainly on insects and small vertebrates.
If you want to learn more about this amazing animal or see it live, you can visit some zoos or aquariums that have it on display or watch some videos or documentaries online.