Scientific Name: Selenocosmia crassipes
Sally Myers, Sydney
These spiders will often construct a side burrow off the main tunnel, which slopes upwards and ends in a round chamber. This is specifically designed as an emergency home in case heavy rains flood the main burrow. The upward angle ensuring that an air chamber is maintained with sufficient oxygen to keep the spider alive for many days if necessary.
This is one of several species of large, aggressive spiders, which are found in the warmer and more arid regions of Australia. The largest species may attain a body length of 60mm and a leg span of 160mm, with powerful fangs 10mm long. The colour varies from grey-brown to reddish, often with a silvery sheen. Some species are known as barking or whistling spiders because of the sounds they can produce by rubbing their palps (the appendages between the front legs) along a set of spines at the base of their fangs.
The habitat ranges from sandy deserts to rainforests. These spiders construct long, silk-lined burrows or will utilise a log or rock for protection. The entrance to the burrow is surrounded by loose strands of web, which provide the spider with an advanced warning of approaching prey or danger.
Despite its common name, the bird-eating spider rarely eats birds. Occasionally, hatchling birds will be taken from nests on the ground, however, the bulk of the diet comprises insects, lizards, frogs, and other spiders. Although the fangs are long and robust and can easily penetrate human skin, the bite is not deadly. The venom is quite toxic, however, and bites may cause severe pain, nausea and profuse sweating.
The female bird-eating spider spends most of her life in her burrow. During spring or early summer. The male approaches the female's burrow and entices her out, hopefully without becoming dinner, to mate at the entrance. The female lays about 50 eggs into a 30mm diameter sack several days later, which is stored in the burrow and protected by a tough cover of silk. If the female leaves the burrow to hunt, she will often take the egg sack with her, secured between the palps and fang tips. While females may live in excess of ten years, the male usually dies after mating at around five years of age.