WWW: Gigantor Spider and Some Skepticism
For this week’s Weird Wildlife Wednesday: Halloween Edition, we have an enormous spider that was recently brought to the internet’s attention by Pitor Naskrecki.
You may have seen the story about the “puppy-sized” spider. I read it too, and thought that a huge scary spider that EATS BIRDS would be perfect for a halloween-themed WWW post. I noticed though, as I began digging for a source on the story, that none of my favorite reputable science sources were covering the story. I also noticed that the same language was being used in almost every post in that kind of incestuous cross-reporting that occurs when a bunch of journalists don’t bother verifying their source materials.
I teased you in with the title so we can look at the spider first. The South American Goliath birdeater, Theraphosa blondi, is the largest spider species in the world. They are about 30cm across, leg to leg (each leg isn’t a foot long despite the fact that it was lazily reported this way in several sources), and the spider weighs 30 grams- or “about as much as a young puppy,” as Nasrecki put it in his blog- spawning the majority of the headlines.
The bit about the birdeater sounds more dramatic than it is; T. blondi is capable of killing small birds though it subsists primarily on earthworms.
Goliath birdeaters are so large that the sound of their steps is audible- the hard tips of their legs make a clicking sound that Nasrecki likens to that of a horse’s hooves. When approached, the spider rubs its legs against its abdomen to flick bristly hair into the eyes of the potential predator. After it would rear up, bearing fangs enormous enough to penetrate the skull of a small rodent. While not venomous enough to harm a human, the venom is not insubstantial and in combination with the potential strength of the bite, not the most pleasant of experiences.
In my quest for a source, I stumbled upon the blog of Pitor Nasrecki, the entomologist who found the enormous specimen of this amazing spider in Guyana. As I searched for his original post documenting this find I found this.
Nasrecki describes how, possibly in relation to the Halloween season, his post about the Goliath birdeater went viral where it was reposted over the internet (often without permission) and he was vilified over the fact that he collected (i.e. killed) one of the specimens he found to be placed in a museum. A wave of vitriol was released against him as people rebuked him (with extensively foul language) for collecting the spider.
The post offers an interesting perspective on a person whose information is proliferated without permission on the internet. It also provides additional information defending the spider collection that may put he act into some perspective
- The spider is a common enough species that the collection of a single specimen does not pose a risk to the survival of the species.
- You can purchase a Goliath birdeater online for prices under $100. Side note: someone stop me because they are REALLY cute.
- A mile of highway kills more organisms than an entire generation of scientists.
Without getting into a debate regarding animal rights and the role of animals in science, this story does tell an interesting tale about viral content and the relationship between original content creators, journalists, and the rest of the people on the internet.
If you read to the bottom of Nasrecki’s post, you will find his original post about the Goliath birdeater.