Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



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grapes with the apes

Q: What’s Huge, Hairy, Has Fangs and an Attitude?

A: The Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula!

Some cool facts about this creepy creature:

  • A tarantula’s venom, including that of the Goliath, is usually not lethal to humans, although the Goliath’s bite with its one-inch-long fangs can cause severe pain, nausea, and profuse sweating.
  • Another serious weapon in a tarantula’s arsenal is its ability to release hairs (actually hairlike setae) from its body at any creature—including a human—it perceives as a threat. The tiny, almost invisible hairs that it voluntarily releases into the air are extremely irritating to skin, and can cause real problems if they get into delicate mucous membranes around eyes or mouth.
  • The Goliath bird-eating tarantula makes noise—not with vocal cords like dogs, cats, birds, or humans—but by rubbing bristles on its legs together! This hissing noise called stridulation is loud enough to be heard up to 15 feet away.
  • Tarantulas can be fearsome predators. Unlike some other spiders, they don’t weave intricate webs or leap great distances. Instead, they use stealth and strength to sneak up and pounce on unsuspecting victims, inflicting fatal bites with venomous fangs.
  • Tarantulas don't have teeth for tearing and chewing their meals. They inject juices into their victims. These juices break down soft tissue so that the spider can slurp up its meal.
  • Tarantulas eat insects, frogs, small snakes, lizards, and even rodents and bats. The Goliath bird-eating tarantula has been known to catch young birds. This is very rare but the behavior gave the spider its name.
  • Some people in South America eat tarantulas—roasted!

Although fuzzy, tarantulas are not exactly warm, and because of their hair-flinging weaponry, huge fangs, and venom, many people fear them. Others, however, find them good pets.

A Future at Risk

Tarantula populations are under pressure from habitat destruction, whether in tropical rainforests or deserts. Many suffer the effects of pesticides used to kill insect pests on which they prey.