Harvard entomologist Piotr Naskrecki’s was taking a nighttime walk in a rainforest in Guyana, when he heard rustling as if something were creeping underfoot. When he turned on his flashlight, he expected to see a small mammal, such as a possum, raccoon, or a rat. Instead…
“When I turned on the light, I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing.”
What he was seeing was a nightmare come to life – the South American Goliath birdeater spider, which has legs about a foot long (the size of a child’s forearm), a body the size of “a large fist”, and weighs about ½ pound. For those trying to form the visual – that’s the size of a small puppy! In addition, the birdeater spider’s body is covered with hairs with tiny hooks and barbs that make an eerie “hissing sound” when they rub against each other as the spider shifts its weight. And oh, the horrifying sound it makes when it walks…
“Its feet have hardened tips and claws that produce a very distinct, clicking sound, not unlike that of a horse’s hooves hitting the ground.”
Naskrecki said when he approached the spider, it began rubbing its hind legs against its abdomen. At first, he thought “Oh, how cute!”, but then realized the spider’s adorable behavior was shooting out a cloud of webbing with microscopic barbs on them. This defense mechanism is intended to send a wad of painful, barbed spider web into the eyes and mucous membranes of its target. Naskrecki says his eyes watered for a week after the attack.
And to complete the nightmarish visual, the birdeater spider can use its two inch fangs, capable of piercing the skull of a mouse, to inflict final punishment on its victim. According to Naskrecki, the bite won’t kill you but will be extremely painful, “like driving a nail through your hand”.
And yes, he captured the spider and took it home with him.
[Editor note: Reeko says to remind the kids that they can email him thanks for the wonderful description of the Goliath Birdeater spider but for parents that are angry about their child’s nightmares, tell them Delilah wrote the article.]