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Bug Bytes: Goliath Birdeater Tarantula

Goliath Birdeater Tarantula (Polly)
Brenna Shea
/
Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium
Goliath Birdeater Tarantula (Polly)

Sometimes you see something that just can’t be real.

With an abdomen the size of a small pear, legs that span about eight inches and fangs that are an inch long, we’re talking about Polly, our beloved Goliath Birdeater Tarantula. Given her impressive size, she tends to leave an impression on everyone she meets.

And while she’s big, Polly is only a medium-sized Goliath Birdeater.

These massive spiders are from the upland rainforest regions of northern South America and have the largest body size and mass of any spider. With leg spans of up to 12 inches and weighing over 6 ounces they are the giants of the spider world — about the size of a dinner plate.

Despite their intimidating size and enormous fangs, biting is their last resort. Instead, Goliath Birdeaters' abdomens are cover with tiny hairs called “urticating hairs.” Their primary defense is to kick a floating cloud of these hairs toward any threat.

Like floating, tiny porcupine quills that get into the eyes and nose and onto the skin of a predator these hairs cause an itching, burning sensation. And while tarantulas from North and South America all use this type of defense, the hairs of the Goliath are known to be the most irritating.

In spite of the name, birds are rarely on the menu. Goliaths typically eat insects, frogs, lizards and rodents — sometimes as large as a small opossum.

Males typically live up to 10 years. But Polly is a female and can live up to 25 years. So, to all of Polly’s fans out there, we hope to have her around for many years to come.