This may not come as a shock to the arachnophobes in the audience, but fear of spiders is one of the most common phobias the world over. Why? Because spiders are just scary. Even while most spiders aren't actually venomous enough to hurt us, they're creepy and crawly, and when they get on you, all you want to do is brush them off as quickly as possible.
Fantasy, science fiction, and horror are no escape, either. For as far back as J. R. R. Tolkien, at least, our media has been saturated with stories of giant spiders. They crawled across cinema screens in the '50s (and continue to do so today), and they populate our books and our video games. Fortunately, spiders don't get that big in real life... or do they?
Here are some of the biggest, creepiest crawlers in the spider world. The smallest is about five inches across. The largest? Well, if you're an arachnophobe yourself, you may want to stop reading right now. Also, before you say anything - no, camel spiders aren't on this list. Sure, they're pretty big and very creepy, but they're not actually spiders. Instead, they're their own thing, kinda midway between a spider and a scorpion.
Considered the largest spider in the world (that we've discovered so far, anyway), the Goliath Birdeater is, as its name would suggest, large enough to eat birds, though it rarely does. An 18th-century engraving by German naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian depicts this massive arachnid devouring a hummingbird and helped to give the Birdeater its name.
This opportunistic hunter will target anything it encounters that's small enough to eat, including small mammals, frogs, large insects, and even lizards and snakes. However, because it hunts on the ground, it doesn't get the chance to snack on birds very often. Most of the Goliath Birdeater's diet actually consists of something that birds themselves are also known to eat: earthworms, which come up out of the ground during the night, the same time that this massive spider is out prowling the jungle floor.
Average Size: The Goliath Birdeater has a leg span of up to 12 inches and a heavy body that can reach almost five inches in length. While the Giant Huntsman spider is sometimes considered larger, the Goliath Birdeater is considerably heavier, weighing up to a little over six ounces, which is heavier than a baseball.
Comparative Size: These puppy-sized spiders have bodies bigger than a human fist and a leg span that can exceed the dimensions of a dinner plate.
Region: The Goliath Birdeater makes its home in the Amazon jungle and rainforests across South America, including in parts of Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil.
Is It Dangerous To Humans? With a pair of massive fangs that can reach 1½ inches in length, if the Goliath Birdeater bites you, it's going to hurt. However, the bite of a Goliath Birdeater, while venomous, isn't deadly to humans, though it might make you feel flushed and nauseated. The shy Birdeater isn't likely to bite you unless you strike it or its egg sacs, though. You're more likely to encounter the defense mechanism it uses to fend off predators: shedding irritating hairs that can get into the eyes and nose that cause pain and irritation for days.
Giant Huntsman Spider
Considered the largest spider in the world by leg span, the Giant Huntsman spider is also cuddly tarantula. Instead, this member of the Huntsman spider family (many of which are native to Australia, of course) is a quick, aggressive hunter - hurray! Fortunately for the rest of the world, the Giant Huntsman, which was first discovered in 2001, has thus far only been found in the southeast Asian country of Laos, where it dwells near the entrances of caves.
While its legs get really long, the Giant Huntsman is also much smaller than the Goliath Birdeater in body size, reaching a length of only about two inches. That's probably not a lot of comfort to the poor arachnophobe who spots a spider bigger than a dinner plate, though.
Average Size: The leg span of a Giant Huntsman can reach upwards of 12 inches in diameter.
Comparative Size: A Giant Huntsman's leg span is bigger than the average dinner plate and only slightly smaller than the average steering wheel.
Region: Luckily for the majority of us, these rare spiders have thus far only been spotted in Laos.
Is It Dangerous To Humans? The Huntsman gets its name from the fact that it doesn't build webs but instead chases down and strikes its prey. That's not great news. Fortunately for humans, the bite of a Giant Huntsman isn't likely to cause anything worse than pain and swelling accompanied by mild nausea and headaches.
Salmon Pink Birdeater Tarantula
Another bird-eating spider that rarely (if ever) actually eats birds, the Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater has a leg span of "only" around 11 inches - just an inch or so shorter than their larger cousins, the Goliaths. Males have longer legs than females, but females tend to be heavier and can weigh up to 3½ ounces - that's as much as two tennis balls.
Salmon Pink Birdeaters are relatively common and popular pets due to their size and tendency to stay out in the open compared to other spiders. They are also considered to be an attractive spider by those who are capable of finding spiders attractive - they have an almost uniformly dark coloration along with the pinkish hairs that give them their name.
Average Size: With a leg span of around 10 or 11 inches, the Salmon Pink Birdeater also has an unusually large body-size-to-leg-span ratio, especially in the larger females.
Comparative Size: The Salmon Pink Birdeater has a leg span a little larger than a small pizza.
Region: Native to eastern Brazil, the popularity of the Salmon Pink Birdeater as a pet means that it can be found in homes all over the world. The St. Louis Zoo also has a few of these massive spiders on display.
Is It Dangerous To Humans? The bite of a Salmon Pink isn't deadly to humans, but it is going to hurt. With fangs up to an inch long, getting bitten by a Salmon Pink can feel a lot like getting bitten by a house cat. Salmon Pinks are considered "docile," but it's still a good idea to handle with care.
Giant Tawny Red Tarantula
Most of the biggest spiders in the world are members of the tarantula family, and the Brazilian Giant Tawny Red is no exception. With a leg span that can exceed 10 inches, this is one of the largest spiders in the world. Relatively common compared to some of the others, they are actually sold in pet stores the world over. The Giant Tawny Red tarantula is also notable for its parenting. While most spiders lay eggs and then abandon them, the Tawny Red will actually stick around to guard its egg sacs and help its young hatch.
Average Size: The largest Giant Tawny Red tarantula measured so far had a leg span of just over 10 inches.
Comparative Size: Giant Tawny Red tarantulas can grow to the size of a small pizza - maybe even a little bigger.
Region: While they are native to places like Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, the popularity of the Tawny Red tarantula as a pet means that it is sold in pet stores all around the globe.
Is It Dangerous To Humans? Tawny Red tarantulas are considered docile - this is one of the reasons they make good pets. They have been known to bite if they are handled too frequently, but their venom isn't deadly to a human. Like many tarantulas, Tawny Reds have irritating hairs that they can shed if threatened. These hairs can cause irritation and even blindness if they are inhaled or get into the eyes.