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Wild Costa Rica

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Wild Costa Rica:

the horse-biter tarantula

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Published on Monday, April 8, 2024
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


The biggest spider discovered in Costa Rica is the Goliath Bird-eater tarantula (Theraphosa blondi), known by locals as "horse-biter tarantula," or "pica caballos" in the Spanish language.

The famous spider nickname stems from Costa Rican superstition that when these spiders leave their nests in search of prey at night, they bite the horses' pasterns, resulting in serious tissue damage.

However, specialists at the University of Costa Rica's School of Biology and Museum of Zoology believe that bacterial illnesses in horses' pasterns are caused by exposure to damp soils rather than spider bites.

It is also known as the bird-eating spider, after an early 18th-century copper etching by Maria Sibylla Merian depicting one eating a hummingbird. Despite its moniker, the spider seldom attacks birds, according to scientists.

In the wild, tarantulas eat mostly huge arthropods, worms, and amphibians. However, because of its size and opportunistic predatory habit, this species frequently kills and consumes a wide range of insects and small terrestrial animals. 

They do not eat their prey in the open; instead, they bring it back to their burrow and start the digestion process. They do this by liquefying their prey's insides before sucking it dry.

The horse-biter has been spotted eating rats, frogs, toads, lizards, and even snakes.

The Goliath tarantula may be found from southern Mexico to northern South America, although it is most conspicuous in the Amazon jungle. It is a terrestrial nocturnal spider native to highland rainforest regions, it lives in deep tunnels and is usually seen in marshy or swampy locations. 

It is one of the world's largest spiders by mass (6.2 oz) and body length (up to 5.1 in), and it is second only to the enormous huntsman spider in terms of leg spread.

Unlike other tarantula species, females rarely consume males while mating. Females mature in 3 to 6 years and live an average of 15 to 25 years. They produce 100 to 200 eggs, which hatch into spiderlings in around 6-8 weeks.

Males die soon after reaching adulthood and have a lifetime of 3 to 6 years.   

Their hues vary from dark to light brown, with subtle patterns on the legs. Tarantulas have hair covering their bodies, abdomens, and legs. 

When threatened, the horse-biter tarantula stridulates by rubbing setae on its pedipalps and legs. They also massage their belly with their hind legs and release hairs that are extremely irritating to the skin and mucous membranes. These irritating hairs can be toxic to people.

They, like all tarantulas, have fangs that are long enough to break a human's skin (ranging from 0.79 to 1.57 inches). They contain venom in their fangs and have been known to bite when threatened, however, the venom is rather innocuous and has symptoms similar to a wasp sting. 

Horse-biter tarantulas may bite humans in self-defense, and these bites do not necessarily result in poisoning, what is known as a "dry bite." 

Tarantulas are edible spiders found in isolated sections of Venezuela, northern Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname. The spider is prepared by singeing off the urticating hairs and roasting it in banana leaves. The flavor is characterized as "shrimp-like".

Another unique spider endemic in Costa Rica is the cannibal pirate spider. It dupes potential prey into building a web that leads directly into a trap.

Wild Costa Rica is a space for readers to discover more about the fascinating species that make the "pura vida" land one of the world's countries with the richest natural diversity.



What is the biggest spider you've seen in Costa Rica? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to

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