The United States is home to some nasty spiders, but most of them can be apprehended with an overturned cup and a sheet of paper. That isn't the case with South America's Goliath bird-eating spider. With a leg-span measuring nearly a foot wide and a weight exceeding a third of a pound, the tarantula is the largest spider in the world.
According to National Geographic, the Goliath birdeater gets its name from an 18th-century engraving that shows a relative of the arachnid preying on a hummingbird. In reality, they almost never eat birds. Insects are their meal of choice, though they have been known to chow down on the occasional frog, mouse, or lizard.
Weighing more than some newborn puppies at 6 ounces, Theraphosa blondi doesn't need to weave webs to ensnare larger prey. It pounces on its victims and injects them with neurotoxins using its large fangs. The venom liquefies the creature's insides, making it easy for the spider to slurp out the nutrients.
They weigh more than any spider on Earth, but the Goliath birdeater is puny compared to other predators in the rainforest. To protect itself, the species has evolved a defense mechanism that uses the bristles covering its body. When threatened, the tarantula vigorously rubs its back legs against its abdomen, shooting its barbed hairs into the air and irritating the eyes, mouth, and skin of anyone unlucky enough to be nearby.
Neither a bite nor a hair-missile attack from T. blondi would do serious damage to a human, but if you're arachnophobic, we still recommend avoiding the forests of Venezuela, northern Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname. To observe the eight-legged giant from a safe distance, check out the video below.
[h/t National Geographic]