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"about the size of your face"
April 9, 2013 7:01 AM   Subscribe

In Sri Lanka a new species of giant tarantula has been discovered by the British Tarantula Society. They prefer to live in "well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings." For spider lovers, there's video footage.
posted by MartinWisse (80 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Robert Raven, quoted in the article, notes some doubt as to whether it's a new species, but it's certainly impressive. I was also blown away by the sheer beauty of the related P metallica.
posted by dhruva at 7:07 AM on April 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yeah, that one is aptly named, isn't it?
posted by MartinWisse at 7:09 AM on April 9, 2013


What are they doing in the old doctors' quarters? Pumping themselves up on overdate steroids. Today, bigger than your face; soon, bigger than Manhattan!
posted by Abiezer at 7:09 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Raven is one of the top tarantula taxonomists in the world, I must add.
posted by dhruva at 7:09 AM on April 9, 2013


NOPE
posted by verb at 7:09 AM on April 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


By the way, I don't see why the British Tarantula Society should be getting the credit here; the credit for the discovery as such should be given to the ones who did the study, not the society that published the article in their journal.
posted by dhruva at 7:14 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


If something that big has never been discovered before, the obvious conclusion is it killed all previous humans it met.
posted by yerfatma at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2013 [41 favorites]


Good thing Peter brought that tiki back to Vincent Price.
posted by bondcliff at 7:17 AM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Humans need human-sized measurements, so that they can judge the scale of things, just as we used the foot. The linked article understands this.

The proper unit for spiders, I think, is the facelong. The spider in the article is a one facelong spider. The world's record-holding arachnid, Heteropoda maxima, is a three/halves facelong spider.

Spiders smaller than one facelong should have their sizes described in terms of how many can fit on your face. The common tarantula might be five spiders per face sized.

Bonus Question: Why do spiders have so many legs? ˙ʇɥƃıu ʇɐ ʇı ssoɹɔɐ ʞʃɐʍ ʎǝɥʇ ǝʃıɥʍ ǝɔɐɟ ɹnoʎ ssoɹɔɐ ɹnoɟ ƃɐɹp uɐɔ ʎǝɥʇ oS :ɹǝʍsu∀
posted by adipocere at 7:21 AM on April 9, 2013 [40 favorites]


*cringes, crosses Sri Lanka off "places to visit" list*
posted by notyou at 7:24 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well of course there's a British Tarantula Society...
posted by Naberius at 7:26 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Along with the "about the size of your face" remark and this:

Eventually, the team found enough spiders — including the ones hiding in a hospital — to assemble a detailed description of the new arachnids.

...I have to think the writers are having a bit of fun with the spider-averse. I like the idea of spiders as bug-eating mostly peaceful creatures, but there is something about large ones that is deeply unsettling. I don't know what ancestral monkey-neuron they make fire--were spiders ever a feared predator for primates?--but it's a powerful jump-and-shriek trigger.
posted by emjaybee at 7:27 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


spider lovers

....I'm confused. Those are two recognizeably English words, yet that particular combination isn't making sense to me.

Kidding.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nanayakkara hints that he’s got several more potential new tarantulas up his sleeve, awaiting review.

Noted without comment.
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:28 AM on April 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I was also blown away by the sheer beauty of the related P metallica.

Holy shit, that thing is awesome.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well of course there's a British Tarantula Society...

Order...order...the room will come to order, please! Now before we begin, we have a lovely stunned guinea pig and an assortment of cockroaches on the buffet, thanks to Mrs. Brownfur and Longfangs for that. We'll have the reading of the minutes shortly, but before I hand over the gavels...
posted by PlusDistance at 7:34 AM on April 9, 2013 [23 favorites]


omg look at its fuzzy legs and velvety spiderbutt
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:47 AM on April 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


I am genuinely sorry that a horrific phobia, of tarantulas specifically, prevents me from clicking the link to contemplate this new species.

I'm fine with most spiders these days. When they get over an inch in leg-spread, I start not wanting them in my house, but I fully recognise their right to exist, the beautiful webs they spin, and the good work they do.

Tarantulas, though. When I was in fourth grade, there was a tarantula in the science room. She was about eighteen years old and named Fluffy. Mostly she just hung out in her vivarium and didn't move, except when fed crickets. I was nervous of her, but mostly fine if I avoided looking at her and sat with my back to her in class.

I tried desensitising myself. I read one of those "Know Your Pet" books about the tarantula with big colour pictures. I tried looking at her deliberately while I was cleaning the cages of nearby creatures. I told myself that a tarantula can't hurt you, that its bite is only about as venomous as a bee sting, and that they are fragile creatures-- if dropped from human height, a tarantula's abdomen will burst "like a bag full of jelly", said the book.

I got so I could look at her from close enough that I noticed her looking back with all eight eyes. I freaked out and never approached her vivarium again. Never start a staring contest with a goddamn tarantula.

Shortly after this, Fluffy shed her skin.

Our class noticed this when we came into the room and saw what appeared to be a second tarantula in the vivarium, upside down and contorted, its legs grotesquely clawing the air. The teacher explained that when a tarantula sheds, its cast-off skin looks just like another tarantula. She proposed getting the skin out of the vivarium and passing it around. I proposed that maybe I had to go to the bathroom or something, for the exact length of time until they were done.

So obviously after class I got a hairy tarantula shell shoved right in my face by my asshole classmates. You'd think I'd have seen it coming, but at age 10 I hadn't yet learned that everyone in the world were dicks. That lesson, along with an indelible phobia of tarantulas, was seared into my quivering brain that day as if with a white-hot tarantula-shaped branding iron.

Trust no one.
Fear tarantulas.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:48 AM on April 9, 2013 [44 favorites]


“When it comes down to taxonomy, it’s not a hard and fast science,” Kirk said. “Until we get to things like DNA sampling.”


And thus begins the slippery slope that leads directly to ravenous swarms of genetically engineered spiderbats thank you so much Kirk.
posted by Shepherd at 7:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just in case anybody wanted to get a totally metal British Tarantula Society car decal, here's where you can purchase one. I'm thinking about buying a membership, just so I can put "Member, British Tarantula Society" on my resume.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:52 AM on April 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Aww! Eight fuzzy legs is all the better to hug you with!

(actually, don't hug tarantulas, their hair is terribly itchy.)
posted by quin at 7:54 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ooo it's GORGEOUS!
posted by kyrademon at 7:57 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The secret sign to identify yourself to other BTS members at social occasions are wiggling bunny-ears held under the chin, like brandished fangs. Their sacred oath is "Getitoffgetitoffgetitoff!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:58 AM on April 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Awww, I love it! I could just watch it move around for hours...the coordination is fascinating. I wish I had four legs and four arms, but I'm struggling enough with two of each. Also, mine aren't that fuzzy (thank goodness).
posted by iamkimiam at 8:10 AM on April 9, 2013


fucknopius getthehelloffofus
posted by ardgedee at 8:15 AM on April 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


By the way, I don't see why the British Tarantula Society should be getting the credit here;

Oh come on. All those stories about Big Tarantula are just that - stories.
posted by sneebler at 8:19 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


ah the British Nightmare Society! keeping the anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals industry flush for decades....shudderblaarghblah
posted by supermedusa at 8:22 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well I think it's cute.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:24 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


adipocere, I believe that spiders smaller than twenty or so spiders-per-face can be more easily measured by the earful or nostrilful. For example: the brown recluse, which enjoys hiding in knitted caps, is about one earful.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


The P. Metallica link sent me to this "bite report." There are a lot of "bite reports" on that site. I am using quotation marks because I believe "bite report" is short for "holyfuckingshityouhavegottobekiddingmewhatareyouthinkingyouincrediblechucklehead?"
posted by OmieWise at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


If that picture or website disturbed you, then I strongly advise against doing a Google Image search on "Giant sheep eating tarantula of Patagonia". Just sayin'.
posted by Wordshore at 8:29 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


My other half's parents are Sri Lankan and she's massively arachnophobic. She's seen some out there that were big enough, but I'm not sure if she hears about this I'll get her to go back, no matter how good a time we had on our last visit (where we fortunately saw relatively few eight-legged things - I'm mildly arachnophobic myself).
posted by edd at 8:34 AM on April 9, 2013


Really pleased to see at least a nod to the need for phylogenetic (DNA-based) confirmation of this new group's species status. I would tend to classify it as a probable new species until such confirmation arrives, especially since as Robert Raven (who unlike me is an actual arachnologist) says, this genus is not super well-characterized and hasn't been revised yet using modern genetic methods. This could easily just be a new subspecies of a previously-known tarantula species.

Maybe this discovery will help get funding for a taxonomic revision of these spiders, so that we can see what their real relationships look like in terms of shared ancestry. That would certainly be nice.
posted by Scientist at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I did that search, and on my life what resulted were pictures of people eating tarantulas. And one where a guy is first eating a tarantula, and then displaying a mouthful of sheep eyeballs.
So I guess now I am Team Tarantula
posted by angrycat at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well of course there's a British Tarantula Society...

We can only speculate as to their initiation rituals and secret handshakes.
posted by usonian at 8:39 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and here's something to think about: One of the main differences between spiders and insects, perhaps the main difference in terms of evolutionary history, is that insects developed the ability to fly whereas spiders did not.

There are approximately a million different species of insects, and only forty thousand different species of spiders. Many people attribute this great difference in diversity in large part to the fact that the power of flight has allowed insects access to a great many ecological niches which otherwise would not have been available to them, thus facilitating one of the greatest adaptive radiations in history.

Think about this and be grateful, arachnophobes: It could have been spiders. Instead of 40,000 species, all of which are mercifully confined to the ground (or at least to solid surfaces -- have you checked the ceiling over your head recently?) we could have had over a million species of spiders. Flying spiders.

Flying spiders, people. It coulda happened. We dodged a bullet with that one.
posted by Scientist at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


"about the size of your face"

"with a leg span up to 8 inches across"

"Aww! Eight fuzzy legs is all the better to hug you with!"

...it has concentrated acid for blood. A wonderful defense mechanism....
posted by zarq at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


all of which are mercifully confined to the ground

Bad news: they do fly, sort of. Darwin himself noted this
"Charles Darwin (the English naturalist who traveled the world, finding and studying changes in various life forms, then publishing his ideas about the concept of evolution in his famous book, The Origin of Species), once - during his explorations - saw a large group of spiders land on his ship, the Beagle. At the time, the ship was sixty miles off the coast of South America."

*cringes, crosses Sri Lanka off "places to visit" list*

Worldwide distribution of tarantulas; granted, probably not as big as this one, but still.
posted by dhruva at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Flying spiders, people.

How has this idea not been turned into a cheesy horror film yet?
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:56 AM on April 9, 2013


That's an absolute beauty. Spiders are incredibly cool.
posted by Decani at 8:57 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


the sheer beauty of the related P metallica

It is a pretty thing, as far as nightmarish monsters go, but I'm sure I'm not the only one wishing that it had relatives called P megadeth, P [iron maiden in Greek], or the confusing P pantera.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:58 AM on April 9, 2013


True, dhruva. I think parachuting spiders have been found as high as four miles off the ground, or something like that. It's not quite the same as directed, powered flight though. For instance, they can only drift helplessly into your unsuspecting face instead of powering directly toward your terrified eyeballs.
posted by Scientist at 8:59 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Worldwide distribution of tarantulas; granted, probably not as big as this one, but still.


I....uh...

sonofabitch
posted by jquinby at 9:01 AM on April 9, 2013


Well, you've been a great member of the club Sri Lanka, but we're going to have to nuke you from orbit. You understand of course...
posted by dry white toast at 9:13 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Flying spiders, people. It coulda happened. We dodged a bullet with that one.

Actually ballooning spiders do, sort of, fly.
posted by quin at 9:19 AM on April 9, 2013


And as I look more closely, I see that someone already made this point.

Ignore me and carry on.
posted by quin at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2013


A new type of tarantula about the size of your face has been found...

Prove it, article author, Nadia Drake. But you're going to have to put it on your face because my face will be encased in carbonite to keep face-sized spiders from getting on my face.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:21 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


My husband grew up in the sticks and remembers tarantula migrations. A carpet of them, moving across the land. And then getting squished by cars.

Me, I'm a suburban girl, and every time he tells that story or the story about the scorpions he would find in his shoes or horrifyingly, the tub, I am pretty damn ok with being a suburban girl.
posted by emjaybee at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2013


After reading some of the comments on the Wired article (I know I shouldn't, but I, I just can't help myself...), what is the matter with people? At least here there are more jokes than... (sorry, dry white toast!) I get that lots of people don't like or fear spiders - one of my co-workers is an extreme arachnophobe, here in southern Alberta where there aren't any really big spiders (yet). As a nature-lover, spiders are not my favourite arthropods either. (My favourite arthropod is the peaceful and innocuous isopod Cymothoa. Lookit how cute he is!)

But I was wondering if we as a species were planning on staying on this planet for more than a few more generations? Because if we are, what's the point of hating the other creatures who live on this planet? What's the value of teaching our brood children to hate & fear spiders, for example? Have I been watching too many David Attenborough shows?

emjaybee, that reminds me of living on Vancouver Island 50 years ago. Everywhere you'd go you'd see flattened Garter snakes on the road. Nowadays you hardly see any snakes at all. I wonder why?
posted by sneebler at 9:30 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


a three/halves facelong spider

You know what? No. That cannot possibly exist. No.
*closes office door*
posted by pointystick at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The size of your face

Aw! It just wants a hug!!
posted by The otter lady at 9:46 AM on April 9, 2013


According to a friend of mine the video is probably of a male - the females are usually larger, but that depends on the species.

How you can tell the sex? "Males have enlarged pedipalps, those are the first appendages from the front, then you see the four pair of walking legs at the sides. The pedipalps are used in food manipulation, but in males, when they become adults, they serve as secondary sexual organs, and transfer the sperm into the female genitalia".

Apparently there are very educational videos on youtube of how spiders mate. Hopefully they shelve the mating spider videos far away from the section for cute kittens falling asleep.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 10:30 AM on April 9, 2013


I was prepared to be terrified, but then I watched that video and was like "Who's the most adorable fluffy giant spider ever?" It's possible that years spent living in an old house in the giant flying cockroach belt have blunted my once-crippling phobia of oversized spiders and insects.
posted by thivaia at 11:14 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I was wondering if we as a species were planning on staying on this planet for more than a few more generations? Because if we are, what's the point of hating the other creatures who live on this planet? What's the value of teaching our brood children to hate & fear spiders, for example? Have I been watching too many David Attenborough shows?


Yes.
posted by OmieWise at 11:18 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


My husband grew up in the sticks and remembers tarantula migrations. A carpet of them, moving across the land.

Everyone at work is wondering why in the hell I just shrieked and climbed on my desk, sobbing.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:29 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because if we are, what's the point of hating the other creatures who live on this planet? What's the value of teaching our brood children to hate & fear spiders, for example?

I'm pretty sure my children need no prompting to be terrified and defensive of spiders with an 8" legspan. I suspect their first thought after, "AAAAAAAIIIIIIIGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!" will be "KILL IT WITH FIRE!"
posted by zarq at 11:33 AM on April 9, 2013


The nice thing about tarantulas is that they're so big, you'll never accidentally find one on yourself.

I like spiders just fine, intellectually, but once in a while I'll feel a tickle on a bare arm or leg, look down, see a spider there and then jump up and scream like a three-year-old.

That doesn't tend to happen with something big enough to stretch its legs from one end of your face to the other.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:36 AM on April 9, 2013


Well, that's a good enough cause to support conservation as I've ever seen.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:25 PM on April 9, 2013


In part of my dream last night, I visited a petting zoo and was pleasantly surprised that they included Theraphosa blondi among the menagerie. My dream self was impressed, thinking this was a very progressive decision.

This discovery is good news!
posted by metaman livingblog at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2013


"Males have enlarged pedipalps, those are the first appendages from the front, then you see the four pair of walking legs at the sides. The pedipalps are used in food manipulation, but in males, when they become adults, they serve as secondary sexual organs, and transfer the sperm into the female genitalia".

Face full of alien wing-wong.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2013


that reminds me of living on Vancouver Island 50 years ago. Everywhere you'd go you'd see flattened Garter snakes on the road. Nowadays you hardly see any snakes at all. I wonder why?

They're so flat now, they can slip under the road undetected. CARTOON SCIENCE!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]



Eventually, the team found enough spiders — including the ones hiding in a hospital ...


Apparently in the arachnophobia ward-- which is a feature unique to Sri Lankan hospitals, for some obscure reason-- and where they were initially mistaken for the first known objective manifestation of a collective psychotic delusion.
posted by jamjam at 12:58 PM on April 9, 2013


Assuming that is a mistake.
posted by jamjam at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2013


The nice thing about tarantulas is that they're so big, you'll never accidentally find one on yourself.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

Let me take a moment in advance to apologize to everyone on whom I'll be testing this hypothesis.
posted by quin at 1:08 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


quin: " Let me take a moment in advance to apologize to everyone on whom I'll be testing this hypothesis."

*shudder*
posted by zarq at 1:11 PM on April 9, 2013


omg look at its fuzzy legs and velvety spiderbutt

I admire spiders as much as the next person, and more than many, but even I think you have misunderstood the concept of "spider lover."
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:34 PM on April 9, 2013


They need to make hamster balls big enough to fit a couch and a tv inside.
posted by FunkyHelix at 2:18 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NO THANK YOU PLEASE
posted by sarcasticah at 2:23 PM on April 9, 2013


I have touched a tarantula belly (while it was being held by a museum worker) and it does have a very very velvety tummy.

And then I noticed the fangs.


Ok, NOPE.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:40 PM on April 9, 2013


Maybe tarantulas don't fly, but they can swim. And run faster than your average person. I'll just lock myself inside this hyperbaric chamber for the rest of forever.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:46 PM on April 9, 2013


Tarantulas can also teleport. And they have been reading this thread, and frankly, you've kind of hurt their feelings. Now they wish to discuss their feelings with you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:10 PM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just sent this to a Sri Lankan friend. Email subject: "No wonder your family hates camping!"
posted by heatherann at 4:32 PM on April 9, 2013


(My favourite arthropod is the peaceful and innocuous isopod Cymothoa. Lookit how cute he is!)

You think you're funny, don't you?
posted by yonega at 9:34 PM on April 9, 2013


Kitty?
posted by homunculus at 9:52 PM on April 9, 2013


Worldwide distribution of tarantulas; granted, probably not as big as this one, but still.

That map indicates all of Africa, but I'm pretty sure we don't have any tarantulas where I am.

What we have instead are what are known locally as scorpion carriers, and more widely known as camel spiders, though in fact they are technically neither spiders nor nor camels nor scorpions (nor has anyone ever actually documented them carrying scorpions), but a different order of arachnid. They are blindingly fast, and attracted to light. They are terrifying - remember this picture? Yep, that's a camel spider. But they're mostly harmless.

In any event, I'm extremely happy that news of this fresh terror came out AFTER I visited Sri Lanka. I'd kind of wanted to go back, but oh well, it's a big world out there, I'll just explore somewhere else thanks.
posted by solotoro at 6:25 AM on April 10, 2013


They aren't camels?!
posted by shakespeherian at 6:29 AM on April 10, 2013


I know, it's not obvious at first blush. The way I remember the difference is that if it actually bites me, it's a camel. If I regain awareness of the world around me after someone slaps me out of a screaming fit, it was a camel spider. Easy!
posted by solotoro at 6:40 AM on April 10, 2013


Aren't Camel spiders the ones that sneak up, squirt digestive fluid on your sleeping face and then drink the puddle that used to be your features?

Not quite my idea of relatively benign.
posted by jamjam at 10:11 AM on April 10, 2013


Aren't Camel spiders the ones that sneak up, squirt digestive fluid on your sleeping face and then drink the puddle that used to be your features?

Don't forget that this process paralyzes you but is also incredibly painful so you are awake for the whole thing.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:19 AM on April 10, 2013


You aren't scaring me. Sure I'm gonna lay awake here all night, but that's just 'cause I have a lot to think about, it's nothing to do with OMFGWHATISTHATGETITOFFGETITOFF sorry a fly landed on me.
posted by solotoro at 2:34 PM on April 10, 2013


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