When hearing the term “bird-spiders” many people probably think of the well known Goliath birdeater tarantula species, which is the largest spider species currently living. Bird-spiders belong to the Mygalomorphae suborder, and the Goliath bird eater is, indeed, a part of this order. Surprisingly, this suborder of huge tarantula spiders is comprised of 2,547 known species that cover every continent except for Antarctica. These spiders are officially considered “tarantulas” in the true sense of the term, and they are known for being among the largest spiders on earth. The Goliath birdeater, for example, grows to be around 10 or 11 inches in length, making for a terrifying sight.
These spiders earned the name “bird-spiders” on account of the fact that some species consume small birds. Early European explorers in the Americas named these spiders after finding one species consuming a bird. However, they may have earned their common name due to their frequent habit of falling from trees in times of danger. In fact, while falling, these spiders can spread their hairy legs in order to glide from branch to branch in a manner that resembles birds. Since bird-spider species exist in every region of the inhabited world, including the United States, numerous cultures have developed unique attitudes and beliefs concerning these spiders. For example, in Cameroon, natives place a clear container over these spiders’ burrows. Inside this container, several tarot-like cards are placed at the burrows entrance that the spiders then rearrange. According to folklore, the manner in which these cards are arranged can foretell the future. In Laos, natives roast and consume the fangs of these spiders, and some groups of people even consume the abdominal contents and eggs of bird-spiders in raw form. Although bird-spiders have long been regarded by many cultures as dangerous and aggressive, some people are beginning to keep these spiders within their homes as pets. According to Navajo tribal leaders in the US, bird-spiders are even more dangerous than black widows and can kill a person within a matter of minutes following a bite. However, with the exception of a few Australian species, bird-spider bites are not generally regarded as being medically significant.
Have you ever spotted a bird spider, or any large tarantula in the wild?