The bird-eating spider actually eats lizards, insects and frogs, for the most part, but the spider rarely eats birds. The bird-eating spider is an Australian Old World tarantula in the Theraphosidae family, but a taxonomic dispute clouds its genus. The Queensland Museum asserts that the Selenocosmia genus is restricted to Asia and Australian spiders belong in the Phlogius genus. However, most authorities continue to classify the species under the name Selenocosmia crassipes.
The bird-eating spider has a massive body -- cephalothorax and abdomen -- that measures 2 inches. The spiders legs give him a massive 6-inch leg span; his fangs are nearly a half-inch long. Because of the sound this species makes when it rubs two appendages between his front legs against the base of his fangs, people also call the bird-eating spider the barking or whistling spider. This hairy tarantula is gray, black or brown -- not nearly as colorful as tarantulas in Central or South America but far more aggressive.
Bird-eating spiders may be found in both outback desert environments and rain forests of Australia. They are most common in the eastern coastal region of Queensland and in the Northern Territory near Darwin. Part of their range includes Queensland's wet tropics, which has been designated a World Heritage Area. Although they don't live in the cooler southeastern parts of Australia, they are found south of Gladstone to the west of the Great Divide.
Bird-eating spiders live exclusively on or under the ground; they do not spin webs. They build burrows up to 9 feet long and 3 feet deep, and spend most of their time inside them. These burrows are lined with silk, and the entrances are often webbed over -- not to trap prey but to warn of any animal's approach. They usually build an upward-sloping side burrow off the main tunnel, using it as a retreat in cases of heavy rains that flood the lower burrow. Bird-eating spiders frequently build their burrows close to a stream or other water, where prey species tend to be larger and more numerous.
Despite their best efforts in building emergency burrows in case of flooding, heavy rains -- particularly during the winter -- often wash bird-eating spiders out. When an entire area is flooded, the spiders may enter cities or towns seeking more stable sites to build new burrows. Aside from the weather, the only other threat to bird-eating spiders is the pet trade. The Queensland Museum estimates spider wranglers take around 10,000 tarantulas per year to sell in the pet trade. Bird-eating spiders in particular are favored specimens because of their rapid growth rate. The species' viability has not been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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