The hairy beast in the picture above is real. It’s called the South American Goliath birdeater spider, and thanks to Piotr Naskrecki (the brave photographer holding his hand next to it), its massive size is apparent. (Click here for more pictures.)
In fact, the Goliath birdeater is the world’s largest spider, according to Guinness World Records. Its legs can reach up to a foot in length, and adults weigh about 6 ounces.
It’s hard to imagine getting anywhere near this thing on purpose, but should Goliath feels threatened, it has three defense mechanisms. First, it emits a loud hissing sound by rubbing its hairs together, the sound of which has been described as similar to pulling Velcro apart. If you’re still too close after that, the spider rubs its legs against its abdomen, expelling a cloud of tiny, barbed hairs that attach to the eyes and mucous membranes of predators. These hairs cause extreme pain and itching, both of which can last for days.
If that’s not deterrent enough, Goliath also has two fangs – both two-inches-long – that are strong enough to pierce the skull of a mouse. (Look at your pinky finger; now imagine it without the third “digit” – that’s about how long this thing’s fangs are.)
Despite its name, the “birdeater” does not usually eat birds. Usually. Instead, it injects venom through its dagger-like fangs into earthworms, frogs, and other small forest invertebrates. Its venom isn’t toxic to humans, but that’s irrelevant in this case; a bite from Goliath involves two-inch fangs being driven through your skin.
The Goliath birdeater takes between two and three years to reach maturity. Like most tarantulas, it continues to molt into adulthood, giving it the ability to regenerate lost limbs.
So, basically, if you ever encounter one of these things, don’t take a selfie with it – just shoot it admire it from a distance.
(Photo courtesy of Piotr Naskrecki via LiveScience)