12 Facts About The Goliath Birdeater, An Unexpectedly Gentle Giant

If you're reading this out of morbid curiosity because spiders freak you out, consider that most spiders you see are average-sized, relatively banal arachnids. What would do if you ran into the most massive spider in the world? If you ever find yourself in that position, you can take solace in the fact that it probably won't attack you. Believe it or not, despite its size, the Goliath birdeater is just another spider trying to make its way in the world. If you know a few amazing Goliath birdeater facts, you might even have a bit of fondness for these mammoth web-spinners. 

Being the biggest spider in the world comes with perks. Being bigger than the average human hand means you can take on large prey (it is, after all, called the birdeater, athough that's a bit of a misnomer), and not many animals will want to fight you. However, the Goliath birdeater isn't as deadly as some of its smaller brethren, who pack so much poison they could kill a horse with a few nibbles. Curious about spiders? Terrified of arachnids? Stoned and trawling the Internet? Regardless of why you're here, you'll find some dank, juicy morsels about the largest spider species in the world

Photo: Smithsonian Institution-NMNH-Insect Zoo / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

  • It's The Most Massive Spider Species In The World

    It should be no surprise a spider that can eat birds is huge. The Goliath is (quite literally) massive. It is the largest spider in the world in body size and mass. Its body length can reach 11.9 cm (about 4.5 inches) in length; some Goliath birdeaters have been known to reach lengths of 11 inches, which is about as big as a dinner plate.

    Goliath birdeater leg span can reach 28 cm, and the spiders weigh around 175 grams, which is a little less than half a pound (what do you want, it's a spider, not an elephant). The only larger spider by any measure is the giant huntsman, which has a longer leg span

  • They Can Regenerate Lost Limbs Through A Molting Process

    They Can Regenerate Lost Limbs Through A Molting Process
    Photo: Smithsonian Institution-NMNH-Insect Zoo / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Like many tarantulas, Goliath birdeaters molt past maturity, meaning they continually produce new skin and shed old skin, as do snakes. The process by which Goliath birdeaters molt can also be used to regenerate lost limbs. 

    If a Goliath birdeater loses a leg, it increases fluid pressure in its body to pop off part of its carapace, or the hard shell covering the animal. It then pumps fluid from its body to its limb to force old skin off and creates new skin in the shape of the lost limb, which is filled with fluid until it becomes a solid leg. The spider then regrows the lost part of its carapace. This process can take as long as several hours, and the spider exists in an vulnerable state, its exposed parts the texture of rubber, until it is full regenerated. 

  • They Shoot Tiny Barbed Hairs From Their Abdomen As A Defense Mechanism

    They Shoot Tiny Barbed Hairs From Their Abdomen As A Defense Mechanism
    Photo: snakecollector / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    When threatened, Goliath birdeaters can shoot tiny, barbed hairs (called urticating hairs) from their body. These extremely tiny hairs irritate to the skin, and can get caught in the eyes, nose, and mouth to great agitation of the attacker; they are especially damaging to soft, exposed areas with mucous membranes, such eyes. 

  • Males Die Not Long After Mating

    Males Die Not Long After Mating
    Photo: snakecollector / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Male Goliath birdeaters typically die a few months after mating, having fulfilled their biological function. The female spins a web, lays 50 to 200 eggs in that web, gathers the web into a ball, and carries it around. Carrying the egg sac makes Goliath birdeaters unique among tarantula species. 

  • Like All Tarantulas, Their Eyesight Is Terrible

    Like All Tarantulas, Their Eyesight Is Terrible
    Photo: snakecollector / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Despite what you may surmise from looking at them, Goliath birdeaters are not perfect killing machines. Like all tarantulas and most spiders, they have incredibly poor eyesight. To make up for this, tarantulas hunt by sensing vibrations on the ground. When they feel something, they pounce on their prey and subdue it with venom.

    Tarantulas make up for poor eyesight by hunting at night, putting them on equal footing with anything that isn't an owl. Or Predator. But why would a tarantula hunt Predator? 

  • It's A Species Of Tarantula

    Goliath birdeater spiders are taxonomically classified as Theraphosa blondi. They belong to Arachnida Class, Aranea Order (spiders),  Mygalomorphae Suborder, and Theraphosidae Family. The latter makes them tarantulas, a family of spiders containing at least 947 species. Tarantulas are typically large spiders with hair on their legs and abdomen and two tarsal (at the end of the their legs) claws.

    They are burrowing creatures that pose no serious threat to humans and can live as long as 30 years in the wild.