Life History and Behavior
Although called a ‘bird-eater’, Theraphosa blondi doesn’t normally eat birds.It usually feeds on insects such as crickets and beetles, but it will also eat small mammals, frogs and reptiles.Like most spiders, Theraphosa blondi has poor eyesight so it relies mainly on sensing ground vibrations.It will rush out of its silk-lined burrow when it detects potential prey, and subdues it by injecting it with venom though its 20mm long fangs.Although very formidable looking, a bite from this species is apparently no worse than a wasp sting.An adult female lays 50–150 eggs in a huge silk egg sac (approximately 30mm in diameter).She carries this around with her to protect her offspring.After around 2 months, the spiderlings emerge. They may live communally in their mother’s burrow until they are about a third grown, and then they disperse.Youngsters take around 2.5–3 years to mature and females can live up to 20 years.Males have a lifespan of only 3–6 years, dying soon after maturity.Like other tarantulas, Theraphosa blondi continues to moult into adulthood which enables it to regenerate any limbs that have been lost or damaged.
A Theraphosa blondi is very capable of warning off potential predators. It does this in several ways:
- It may produce a hissing noise, by rubbing together the bristles on the first 2 pairs of legs and pedipalps (front appendages) - this is called stridulation.
- It can adopt a fearsome pose by throwing the first 2 pairs of legs back, opening and hinging back the fangs, so that it’s in a perfect position to inflict a bite.
- It can also flick urticating (irritating) hairs from its abdomen using the hind legs. These hairs are barbed at the tips, and can severely irritate the skin, nose and eyes of mammals, including humans - small mammals such as mice can die from such irritation.
- Adult females incorporate these urticating hairs into the silk surrounding their eggs, as a form of protection for the developing young.
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The Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) is a spider belonging to the tarantula family, Theraphosidae. It is considered to be the largest spider in the world (by leg-span, it is second to the giant huntsman spider), and it may be the largest by mass. It is also called the Goliath bird-eating spider; the practice of calling theraphosids "bird-eating" derives from an early 18th-century copper engraving by Maria Sibylla Merian that shows one eating a hummingbird, but the term is inaccurate as they do not primarily prey on birds.
Habitat and ecology
Theraphosa blondi is native to the upland rain forest regions of northern South America: Surinam, Guyana, northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. Goliath birdeaters are terrestrial, living in deep burrows, and are found commonly in marshy or swampy areas. It is a nocturnal species. These spiders are part of the local cuisine in northeastern South America. The spider is prepared by singeing off the urticating hairs and roasting it in banana leaves. The flavor has been described as 'shrimplike".
Females sometimes end up eating their mates. Females mature in 3 to 6 years and have an average life span of 15 to 25 years. Males die soon after maturity and have a lifespan of 3 to 6 years. Colors range from dark to light brown with faint markings on the legs. Birdeaters have hair on their bodies, abdomens, and legs. The female lays anywhere from 100 to 200 eggs, which hatch into spiderlings within two months. Males will die a year after mating.
These spiders can have a leg span of up to 28 cm (11 in) and can weigh over 170 g (6.0 oz). Birdeaters are one of the few tarantula species that lack tibial spurs, located on the first pair of legs of most adult males.
In response to threats, Goliath birdeaters stridulate by rubbing setae on their pedipalps and legs. Also when threatened, they rub their abdomen with their hind legs and release hairs that are a severe irritant to the skin and mucous membranes. These urticating hairs can be harmful to humans, and the species is considered by some to have the most harmful tarantula urticating hair of all.
Like all tarantulas, T. blondi have fangs large enough to break the skin of a human (1.9–3.8 cm or 0.75–1.50 in). They carry venom in their fangs and have been known to bite when threatened, but the venom is relatively harmless and its effects are comparable to those of a wasp's sting. Tarantulas generally bite humans only in self-defense, and these bites do not always result in envenomation (known as a "dry bite").
Despite its name, it is rare for the Goliath birdeater to actually prey on birds; in the wild, their diet consists primarily of earthworms. However, because of its size and opportunistic predatory behavior, it is not uncommon for this species to kill and consume a variety of insects and small terrestrial vertebrates. In the wild, T. blondi has been observed feeding on rodents, frogs and toads, lizards, and snakes.
- World's biggest spider face-off - see which bug wins here[dead link]
- Herzig, Volker; King, Glenn F. (2013). "The Neurotoxic Mode of Action of Venoms from the Spider Family Theraphosidae". In Nentwig, Wolfgang. Spider Ecophysiology. p. 203. ISBN 3642339891.
- Striffler, Boris F. (November 2005). "Life history of Goliath Birdeaters – Theraphosa apophysis and Theraphosa blondi (Araneae, Theraphosidae, Theraphosinae)". Journal of the British Tarantula Society 21 (1). Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- "Largest Spider". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
- Perez-Miles, Fernando; Montes de Oca, Laura; Postiglioni, Rodrigo; Costa, Fernando G. (December 2005). "The stridulatory setae of Acanthoscurria suina (Araneae, Theraphosidae) and their possible role in sexual communication: an experimental approach". Iheringia, Serie Zoologia 95 (4). doi:10.1590/S0073-47212005000400004.
- Menin, Marcelo; Rodrigues, Domingos De Jesus; de Azevedo, Clarissa Salette (2005). "Predation on amphibians by spiders (Arachnida, Araneae) in the Neotropical region". Phyllomedusa: Journal of Herpetology 4 (1): 39–47. doi:10.11606/issn.2316-9079.v4i1p39-47.
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