An arachnophobe′s worst nightmare | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 26.04.2018
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An arachnophobe's worst nightmare

The Goliath birdeater is like something straight out of a horror movie. Still, the biggest spider in the world has a softer side as well.

Invertebrates are often at the bottom of the food chain. Beetles, spiders and worms are a staple food for many birds, reptiles and mammals. But there are exceptions. The Goliath birdeater is one of those. 

As the name implies, this spider is massive. With a body length of almost 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) and a leg span of up to 28 centimeters (11 inches), it's bigger than a Guinea pig. So it may not be surprising that this eight-legged predator occasionally goes for rather large prey.

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While they mostly eat insects, worms and amphibians, the spiders have also been seen feeding on frogs, toads, lizards, rodents and even snakes.

Ironically, the one thing they rarely hunt is birds. The moniker "birdeater" stems from a copper engraving created almost 300 years ago, which shows a spider of the same family devouring a hummingbird.

While the spiders tend to steer clear of humans, indigenous communities in the Northern Amazon, where the arachnid lives, have long been catching and eating them. They allegedly taste a lot like shrimp when grilled.

Goliath birdeaters tend to be quite aggressive when cornered. Their venom isn't going to kill a human, but they do have fangs that are more than 2 centimeters (1 inch) long. Most dog canines are shorter than that. And yes, as a last resort, they will even bite humans.

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If they are left alone and nobody tries to grill them, the big creepy crawlies can live to be quite old. On average, females can reach the ripe old age of 15 to 25 years. That's longer than most cats or dogs. 

And they do have a softer side as well. Romance among spiders is frequently a delicate affair that often ends badly for the male suitors. Not so for Goliath birdeaters. The much bigger females kindly spare their partners the horror of becoming a post-sex meal.


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