The Goliath tarantula or bird-eating tarantula (Theraphosa blondi) is the queen of spiders. It is the largest and one of the largest species of mygalomorphic spiders known with a wingspan of 30 cm and a weight of 120 to 130 grams (see 170 grams).
Goliath tarantulas don’t usually feed on birds, but are big enough to be able to – and they sometimes do. The name “bird eaters” comes from an engraving of the 18e century that showed another kind of tarantula eating a hummingbird, giving the whole genus Theraphosa the name “bird-eater”.
Insects make up most of the Goliath Tarantula’s diet, but frogs and rodents also feature on the menu. Goliath tarantulas can be produced in the Amazon, in northern South America. When a Goliath tarantula pounces on a mouse, for example, its centimeter-long fangs engage like hypodermic needles, injecting neurotoxins into its unfortunate prey. The arachnid then drags the dying animal back to its burrow. Since spiders cannot ingest solid matter, they first liquefy the entrails of their prey, then suck them.
Unlike jumping spiders, bird-eating tarantulas have poor eyesight. Instead, they rely on the modified hairs on their vibration-sensitive feet to keep them out of harm’s way. If a predator like a coati gets a little too close, the Goliath tarantula has an ineffective weapon: harpoon-shaped hairs, called stinging hairs. She rubs her paws together, launching a rain of miniature missiles into the air. The hairs touch the eyes and the skin of the potential aggressor and scare him away.
Goliath females use these same stinging hairs to cover their large egg sacs, which can hold between 50 and 150 eggs. The young stay close to their mother until they reach full maturity, at the age of two or three years.
Although they don’t weave webs to trap their prey, goliath tarantulas use their weaving skills in another way: to line their burrows under forest floor.
Deadly for small creatures, the venom of the Goliath tarantula does not pose a lethal danger to humans. Its sting would be as strong as that of a wasp. This giant arachnid is considered a delicacy in parts of South America, but its stinging hairs are carefully singed before the spider is roasted in banana leaves.