Is The Tarantula Really The Biggest Spider?
Many people assume that the tarantula is the world's biggest spider. It just so happens that those people are right. There are however, at least eleven different kinds of tarantula, and all are pretty good sized. To give an accurate answer we have to say that it is the Goliath Bird Eating spider that is the largest. This spider, fully grown with legs extended, has a leg span of up to 12 inches, and would cover a dinner plate.
A contender for the biggest spider would be the Camel Spider. It is not nearly the size of the tarantula however; in fact it is not even a true spider, being more closely related to the scorpion. And the Camel spider doesn't eat camels! For that matter, the Goliath Bird Eating spider generally doesn't eat birds, though you would think it could if it really wanted to. The scientific name for the "bird eater" is Theraphosa blondi. Tarantulas are native to South America, and are located primarily in the rain forests. Some species have ventured north, either on their own or transported by humans, and will occasionally be seen in the southwestern United States.
The Goliath Bird Eating spider lives between 5 and 12 years, depending on sex. Females live longer as males dies after breeding, usually at the hands of the female. When a female lays her eggs they usually are 300 or 400 in number. It takes about 8 weeks for the eggs to hatch, with the spiderlings reaching maturity in three years.
About Spiders - Spiders as a whole are predators. Their prey is generally confined to insects, and spiders are quite beneficial in that respect. Some of the larger spiders will prey on small mammals or amphibians, and even small fish. Most spiders catch their prey in webs, a few run their prey down or launch a surprise attack, while others, including the tarantula, generally slowly stalk their prey. Spiders rarely attack or bite humans, and if so it is usually in self defense. Spiders in general have very soft bodies and are easily injured or killed. Because of that they will bite if they feel they are in danger of being crushed, or feel any pressure at all for that matter. A pet tarantula can be very docile, but if handled incorrectly can quite suddenly become extremely aggressive - out of self defense.
Many, perhaps most people have a fear of spiders. There is good reason to fear the bite of the Black Widow or the Brown Recluse, although both are generally quite shy and would rather run than fight. Still, one might expect that a bite from the biggest spider, the Goliath Bird Eating Spider, would be the worst of all. In truth, a bite from a tarantula, a somewhat rare occurrence, would at worst feel like a wasp sting, and in many instances the tarantula might not inject any venom at all. Those at most danger would be people who might suffer an extreme allergic reaction to the toxin, just as some are extremely sensitive to bee stings. Still, spiders are admittedly creepy, crawly little guys, and on TV and movies they are often portrayed as larger and more vicious than is ever the case. With the exception of the Back Widow and Brown Recluse, spider venom is generally not overly toxic to humans, and with the exception of those two and the larger spiders like the tarantula, their fangs are generally not large enough, or strong enough, to puncture human skin. So those having a real fear of spiders, arachnophobia, can take heart.
Some species of tarantula take a page from the porcupine in the area of self defense. The tarantula has small hairs, actually bristles, on its abdomen. These bristles have barbed tips, and the tarantula will flick these bristles at a perceived attacker. The bristles, though non-venomous, can be intensely irritating when coming into contact with soft tissue, or with the eyes. More people probably have suffered from the irritating effects of these bristles than have actually been bitten by a tarantula. Those who rightfully should fear the world's biggest spider are crickets, meal worms, lizards, and mice. As far as birds are concerned, baby birds would be in most danger. Any bird getting to close would be in danger of course, but the Goliath Bird Eater certainly cannot capture a bird in flight. As far as enemies are concerned, the human probably ranks number one on the list. Other enemies of the Bird Eater are snakes, spider wasps, and occasionally, another tarantula. As far as the danger from humans is concerned, it's not that we hunt these spiders down, but often destroy the habitat they live in. There are humans who eat tarantulas, they eat them cooked, primarily in Cambodia and in one or two South American countries, but this practice is not enough to contribute to the endangerment of the species. Habitat destruction is the main contributor there. (continued...)