Chicken-Eating Tarantula Discovered

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 8th, 2007

Giant Spider

Martin Nicholas, a water treatment plant salesman, who has a passion for searching for giant spiders, may have discovered a new species, the “Chicken-Eating Tarantula” (shown above).

Nicolas found that the mother spider of this new species was about 10 inches across. This compares well with the record spider, which is 11.8 inches, for the Goliath spider of Venezuela.

Martin Nicholas’ interview in Nature gives insights into how he heard about and tracked down this possible new species:

It started a few years back with a letter from a friend in Peru who built power plants. He heard this story of a chicken-eating spider. I love those kinds of stories, they are irresistible. So I had to go to Peru and see if it was true….

Seeing the big mama tarantula with the young [through the use of a spider cam in a burrow] was remarkable. Most tarantulas are in no way gregarious. In fact, they often cannibalize their own young. So seeing that was very unusual. But it may make sense. It looks like when they go out at night as a group, they can catch and kill larger prey by working together. We also discovered that those spiders appeared to be keeping a pet. There was a little frog that lived down in the hole with the spiders. It may offer some sort of service to spiders, like sweeping up ants that might bother the spiders.

We don’t know yet [if the chicken-eating spider is a new species]. I would like to get it properly identified. There are two or three other large black tarantulas that live in the area.Martin Nicholas in Nature, “Giant Chicken-Eating Spider Discovered – Deep Jungles: Monsters of the Forest,” May 8, 2007

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

35 Responses to “Chicken-Eating Tarantula Discovered”

  1. squatchwatcher responds:

    A spider keeping a pet frog? That’s harder to swallow than accepting the possibility of a giant bipedal hominid living in North America!

  2. fuzzy responds:

    Did he actually say “harder to swallow?”

  3. Sunny responds:

    OMG. Just the idea of a 10″ spider big enough to keep pets and eat chickens is enough to give me the heebiejeebies, even if it’s just an urban legend.

    It will be interesting to if this is a new species, or just a big, bad species we’re already familiar with.

    (aren’t phobias strange? I’m fascinated by cryptids — big hairy creatures, but the idea of a big hairy spider sends me running)

  4. mystery_man responds:

    Although the behaviors of apparent pack hunting and child rearing are very interesting, it is the curious presence of the frog that most caught my attention here. I find it fascinating that there could be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the two although it could have been a one off situation of the frog searching for food within the den and warding off the spiders with some sort of defence mechanism, a skin secretion or poison. I don’t see how they ascertained that it was actually living down there with the spiders rather than just stopping by. Rather than this being a “pet”, it could be this particular type of frog will go into spider dens in search of food. Still, I wonder if it isn’t possible that there is some sort of mutual benefit for the two and if they don’t co habitat within the same dens. Very interesting stuff. Thanks for posting this!

  5. daledrinnon responds:

    I have heard of several rumored giant tarantulas in South America and some of them are considerably larger than this–but none of them ever has anything like a definite measurement of size given, only comparisons such as “The size of a cat”

  6. Excelsior Comics responds:

    Okay, 10″ is big enough. Let’s leave any spider the “size of a cat” unknown. All kidding aside, spiders operating as a pack? Finding communal action within a species of spider would be interesting. I wonder if they behave as a hive or if the mother keeps the young with her until they are large enough to leave the nest. Spiders, a face that only a mother would love.

  7. bill green responds:

    hey loren interesting article about chicken eating tarantula. wow. thanks bill

  8. Bob Michaels responds:

    My Spider is bigger than your Spider, soon we will have spider races along with frog and turtle races.

  9. mccinny responds:

    I remember reading about this a year or two ago. Is this the same spider? Was there a new discovery associated with this or did you recently run across this? Just curious on any new info.

  10. daledrinnon responds:

    I believe there was a PBS Nature program that mentioned the Chicken-eating spider reports and which claimed to have “discovered” it and I remember saying at the time that the spider they found was not the spider that was described.

  11. sausage1 responds:

    We had a documentary over here in UK showing this guy and the spider. I can’t remember what the programme was but the spider was the real McCoy! He viewed it in its den by strapping a small webcam to a child’s toy car  all very amateur and Heath Robinson – but it worked, and he got his arachnid!

  12. shumway10973 responds:

    Okay, 10″ will be too much for my girlfriend to handle. Hunts in packs? Wow! I’m glad they are down there and not up here. Just imagine if the big spider of the Australian outback hunted in packs–then there would be a reason for the spider horror movies. If there are any bigger, they must find ways to catch food without needing to move, maybe another type of trapdoor spider.

  13. SharkFisher responds:

    As a person who is no fan of the 2 in. variety of spider, 10 in. scares the crap out of me. This thing sounds like a cryptid we didn’t even know we were missing. I for one would not miss it had it never been discovered, and now I will be checking to make sure I don’t miss it before slipping into my bed at night.

  14. MattBille responds:

    I wonder if the “pet” theory was inspired at all by “The Future is Wild,” a future zoology “documentary” from 2002, where the last species of mammal on Earth, a marmot-like creature, was kept for food by huge spiders.

  15. daledrinnon responds:

    To Sausage 1 (Claiming to be edible animal protein in a string about giant spiders might be seen as a little foolhardy) I think that you and I are describing the same documentary, except I saw the American version.

    The fellow did indeed get “a” spider. My objection was that I did not think he got “the” spider he was looking for. We are dealing in several distinct sizeranges of reported giant tarantulas, which could be likened to bigfoot reports. It is something of a matter of taste how many bigfoot types you can separate out by size. But when somebody describes a spider twice as big across the legspan as the putative candidate, the identification becomes shakier. Not necessarily a wrong identification, mind you, but it just doesn’t look like as strong of a case for the identification.

  16. UKCryptid responds:

    Yeah this was on a documentary that has been shown twice in the last year in the UK, nice tarantula but the whole ‘chicken eating’ thing is still a little over the top for me, I really think that maybe one or two dead or severely ill chickens happened to be found by a tarantula of this species, or more than one and when a local discovered this they simply came to the assumption that the tarantulas had killed it, thus a myth is born. As for spiders cooperating, this is not actually anything new. One good example is the many small species of spider that build massive webs by combining their efforts, snaring prey as large as small birds, a single bird then feeding hundreds of them in one web, incredible sight that is and it would help to add some weight to the ‘pack-hunting’ idea this guy has been showing. The frog in the burrow by the way is also nothing new, amphibians are often found in the same burrows as tarantulas and other spiders all over the world, which is something i’m shocked this guy didn’t seem to pick up on, the reason being that the amphibians natural protection in it’s skin secretions makes it a no-no for most spider species (apart from specialists of course).

  17. joppa responds:

    I stomped on a three inch Wolf spider once and ten gazillion babies came scrambling out from under my shoe and across the floor. Freaked me out. I would hate to take these guys on.

  18. youcantryreachingme responds:

    I take it the 10 inches refers to the body length alone, and not the legspan – which is customarily how spiders are measured?

    If it refers to the legspan then I’ve twice seen spiders at least that size in Sydney, Australia – though with a smaller body.

    In one memorable instance we’d just finished watching a play at the Footbridge Theatre and got back in our car which was parked under a monster Moreton Bay Fig tree. As the four of us buckled up, my wife, in the passenger seat, felt something furry on the side of her chair between us.

    Realising this was a monster spider all four of us bailed out pronto. We had absolutely nothing in our possession to coax the spider out of the car except for a handkerchief.

    All brave-like, there I was, shoo-ing this beast out by jiggling said handkerchief at it. This thing, as casual as can be, came across the seat, down onto the floor at the door of the car and *stepped* – and I mean *stepped* down onto the ground where it then wandered over to the Moreton Bay Fig.

    We were aghast.

    That’s just one in a very long line of spider stories in our faimly which includes random breath tests, car crashes through front gardens, car roofs that dented when we sat on them, emergency and discrete sewing in the middle of the night, finding a spider in our daughter’s ear (very similar to a recent news article on our local paper – SMH), the jumping attack spiders on my dad’s farm, and, of course, the other 10-plus inch monster we found – also on my dad’s farm.

    I might need to write an article! 😀

  19. Rillo777 responds:

    Just for fun since we’re speculating here anyway, how about: that was a spider eating frog who had its prey trapped in its lair? Or, maybe the spider was the frog’s “pet”. Who would argue with that kind of bodyguard?

    Or maybe the frog was eating the young spiders? Or maybe the spider’s too big to move fast and the frog was using its quick tongue to snap flies to feed the spider and itself? How’s that for a symbiotic relationship?

    Too many questions and most very unlikely. Maybe the frog just hopped down a nice dark hole and then said “Oops, now what do I do?”

  20. Aaronious responds:

    I do volunteer work at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for spider identification. There are several species of tarantulas where the adult female protects the young spiderlings in a burrow until they are old enough to leave on their own. I’ve seen video where, one night, they all leave at once, streaming out in a line, marching off into the jungle. With no apparent cue, the line with split and some spiderlings will follow one while others follow the new line. These splinterings continue until each little spider is on their own, looking for food and shelter. Thus, a hole w/ a mother spider and her young is nothing to get so amazed over. As for the frog, I was at a conference two years ago (American Arachnological Society) and a frog was mentioned being found with a female tarantula and her young. There were more jokes than scientific conjectures about the situation, but it was my understanding that most arachnologists discussing it were under the impression it was an odd, one time occurrence.

  21. youcantryreachingme responds:

    Therein lies the real nugget of gold then – we’ve found a second frog.

  22. Critterling responds:

    UKCryptid was very enlightening, and so was Aaronious.

    Although, they seemed to countermand each other on the point of frogs and spiders living together. It seems some scientists find it strange, and others don’t, and all from the amount of experience and data they have. I wonder how much cryptozology and other normal science mysteries could be solved by a little bit more good communication.

    Cool spider though. It looks cool! I wonder how fast it can run?

  23. mystery_man responds:

    UKCrytpid- Well, I’ve heard of spiders sort of pack hunting in webs, but I don’t believe it is common with ground hunting spiders such as the tarantula. In a web, several spiders can build it together, then kind of gang up on whatever gets trapped in it, more of an opportunist mutual sharing of web space. To me, this is much different behavior than ground hunting spiders sort of coordinating their attacks and working together to take down prey. Most spiders that hunt on the ground for their prey are solitary predators, so I find the described “pack hunting” to be very interesting.

  24. mystery_man responds:

    I still think the frog is a strange addition to the spider’s den, but I don’t know why this person would jump to the conclusion that it is some sort of “pet”. In areas where the frogs and spiders are both found, this could happen just because the frogs go into the dens looking for food and their skin secretions protect them. I guess how common it is could depend on the area and how many frogs are about. In could also be due to other factors that we are unaware of, such as temperature, food availability, etc.

  25. size 13 responds:

    Big Ol’ Fuzzy Wuzzy Spiders .They’re not much more than an ol’ Teddy Bear with 8 eyes and 8 legs. Cute lil’ buggers. I recall seeing tarantula road crossings out in west Texas, where they TRAVEL IN GROUPS. And there’s road signs so ya won’t run em over. Think they got em in New Mexico too.
    Having had the pleasant surprise of finding a LARGE wolf spider in my apartment a few years ago (6 Inches), I tried to connect to her, touching her and holding her and putting droplets of water for her, she took the water to my surprise. Wolf spiders will kill black widows and brown recluses, good to have around. Learned from this experience that spiders are very timid and shy creatures. No reason to be scared of them, just respectful. Like I said fuzzy wuzzy lil’ teddy bears.

  26. springheeledjack responds:

    Thank you Loren Coleman. Now it is going to be at least another hour in my home before I can get to sleep because I had to read the article 🙂

  27. kittenz responds:

    At least the darn thing is too big to live in a person’s ears!

  28. satarina responds:

    Man, I’d rather find a bloodthirsty chupacabra in my yard than a huge freakin’ spider the size of a dinner plate that HUNTS IN PACKS! As happy as it makes me on an intellectual level that this, if real, is a new species, my non-rational phobia is making me slightly nauseous at the thought. one of the few times I’ve found myself hoping that a story like this is fake.

  29. TheHunter responds:

    The author did not miss the mark far when he reasoned that the frog was there to eat ants, I have owned several tarantulas and their scat attracts ants like sugar candy. The frog most likely was not a “pet” and most likely was a poison dart frog (very unpalatable even for a big spider) most likely this was a symbiotic relationship born out of the frog seeking food and the spider being unable to eat it due to the poison or if I may leap into the realm of speculation, a relationship of tolerance due to the frog eating the ants that will kill a tarantula and its young. The picture closely resembles a Venezuelan bird eating tarantula; not uncommon and it is not very uncommon for them to grow to very large sizes, I admit I have never heard of one going 10″ before but as far as where the jungles of South America go, well we don’t know every species much less sub species. Also as far a pack hunting, not likely; tarantulas are very much loners, with the exception of the arboreal species such as the pink toe. The pack assumption was most likely from the fact that some tarantulas (the bird eaters included) have in fact evolved to have large, almost fully developed spiderlings which gives them a better chance of survival when they do leave home. This was hit on by Aaronious which was a very astute observation; hooray! someone that does not let “icky-icky-poo” close their mind to one of the most fascinating and beneficial creatures to roam the planet.

  30. mystery_man responds:

    Kittenz- It’s funny you should mention the spider in the kid’s ear because I just read a news story about that very dilemma. Is that the story you are referring too? That story was pretty horrifying, although harmless in the end. All I can say is, fuzzy wuzzy or not, I know I would freak out if I found one of these scurrying about my room at night! 🙂

  31. mystery_man responds:

    Anyway, as many here have pointed out, a lot of assumptions may have been made by the author about the frog in the hole and the “pack hunting” behavior. I would think that more of a reasoned, scientific approach would have been taken by someone who is so apparently involved with finding new types of spiders. I would think that this person would have been able to ascertain different possibilities for what he was seeing rather than report a new chicken eating spider that hunts in packs and keeps frogs as pets.

  32. UKCryptid responds:

    Oh, just to be difficult, remember that our friends the tarantulas are not ‘true’ spiders 🙂 One way to tell the difference is the fangs and how they’re used.
    I personally think the whole pack hunting idea would come about in much the same way as the frog in the hole at the same time etc, simply by chance. If two tarantulas see the same prey and both want it, they may well go for it at the same time. To somebody looking for a new species all this could be very exciting and thus you may declare that they cooperated to kill. Also, someone mentioned above that they wondered if the measurement was leg span or body length. It is leg span and I to have also seen same size/larger… In my own collection. One thing i remember from the program though is that he stated the largest one he found was a juvenile, not adult. Which would throw the story of the ‘mother and babies’ thing out the window. Not sure on that though.

  33. mystery_man responds:

    UKcryptid- Ok, I’ll be difficult too. 🙂 You said in your above post that some species of spiders are known to hunt in packs on their mutual webs, so if tarantulas are not a true spider, then that doesn’t apply as giving the pack hunting theory any weight. Anyway, I know what you meant, and trying to find paralells in similar creatures is important here. 🙂

    I agree that to someone seeing two spiders go after the same prey, it may appear that the two are coordinating their efforts. So what was a chance occurence becomes an imagined new behavior. But I am a little confused by the author’s approach to this alleged new find. If this guy wanted to approach this from a scientific perspective, I would think he would want to observe whether this pack hunting is a common occurence before turning a possible chance happening into some sort of new behavior. Same with the frog. The way this report is written is very misleading as it seems to point to all these behaviors that have not really been properly studied as far as I can see from this article.

  34. mystery_man responds:

    Anyway, I don’t know a whole lot about tarantulas, so this has been an informative and educational post! Thanks for everyone’s contributions!

  35. sausage1 responds:

    Agreed, Daledrinnon.

    By the way, sausage is my little girl’s nickname, and I am here to tell you that she is braver about spiders than I will ever be.

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