We're talking the size of a dinner plate.
For extremely brave travelers who like to cross superlatives off the bucket list, there's a bizarre creature you can find only in the swampy rainforests of South America. Of all the creepy crawlies that populate the Earth, the largest known spider is definitely one of the freakiest, and it's been spotted throughout northern Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname. Light brown in color and endowed inch-long fangs, you could almost confuse the arachnid with one of those gag decorations you see hung up outside people’s homes during Halloween.
It's known as the Goliath Birdeater, or theraphosa blondi, and it's been described as being the “size of a dinner plate." This gargantuan tarantula easily tops the list of the world’s largest spiders, even surpassing the oversized Huntsman with its body weight. Full-grown Goliath Birdeaters often reach nearly one foot in length, easily dwarfing its pet tarantula cousins. The largest one on record weighed in at more than six ounces—quite a bit heavier than the average house spider you might see scuttling across the attic.
Despite the name, Goliath Birdeaters rarely hunt birds—though they can. When British naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian went to Suriname in 1699, she witnessed one of these spiders feasting on a hummingbird. Merian then immortalized the scene in a famous sketch. Typically, this oversized spider preys on earthworms and cockroaches (though an unlikely vertebrate such as frogs and small mice are an occasional treat).
If you happen to be preparing for an adventurous trek through the jungles of South America, keep an eye out for a wild Goliath Birdeater. And should you encounter one, be sure to admire it from a distance. While its venom may be fairly harmless to humans, these small beasts can do damage with their body hair alone. Once threatened, they release a cloud of tiny barbed bristles that can lodge in the eyes, nose, and throat of their predator.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Goliath Birdeaters is that people keep them as pets.