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This terrifying tarantula has an 8-inch leg span and can bear strange gray, pink, and yellow spots. (Ranil Nanayakkara / British Tarantula Society)

A Spider as Big as Your Head

Scientists have discovered an enormous tarantula in Sri Lanka

By Matt Ringler | May 2 , 2013
The spider was found deep in the forests of Sri Lanka in Southeast Asia. (Jim McMahon)
The spider was found deep in the forests of Sri Lanka in Southeast Asia. (Jim McMahon)

A lot of people are scared of spiders—even the small ones. But a big tarantula is a big nightmare for many. Now, scientists in Sri Lanka have discovered a giant species of tarantula that’s about the size of a person’s face.

The first part of the spider’s scientific name, Poecilotheria rajaei, comes from the Greek words for “spotted” (poikilos) and “wild beast” (therion). Its species name, rajaei, comes from a local police officer who helped the team that discovered the creature. Poecilotheria rajaei has an 8-inch leg span, and unusual spots colored gray, pink, and daffodil yellow.

Although it is gigantic, is there a real reason to be scared of one? Maybe. This tarantula has enough venom to kill mice, lizards, and small birds and snakes—but its bite wouldn’t be fatal to most humans.

BUG HUNT

The Poecilotheria rajaei was first seen in 2009, when a villager in Sri Lanka found the body of a male and brought it to Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Education and Research organization.

An examination of the awesome creature proved that it was a type of tarantula scientists hadn’t seen before. So Nanayakkara surveyed (carefully looked through) the Sri Lankan forests to try to find more of the spiders.

It’s still too early to know whether this species is endangered. But researchers fear that the tarantulas’ natural habitat is slowly being destroyed.

“They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation [a widespread removal of trees] the number has dwindled,” Nanayakkara said in an interview.

TARANTULA TALES

Tarantulas are a kind of arachnid. These eight-legged bugs with two body segments are different from insects, which have only six legs but three body segments. Tarantulas have hairy bodies and are usually larger than other types of spiders. Some species of tarantulas can live up to 25 years.

While the Poecilotheria rajaei is very big, the largest tarantula is the Goliath bird-eater (Theraphosa blondi). Found in the rainforests of South America, its leg span can be up to 10 inches, and it can weigh up to 6 ounces. But don’t worry if you ever see one: Its venom isn’t really dangerous to humans.

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