Selenocosmia crassipes, synonym Phlogius crassipes, also known as the “Queensland whistling tarantula” (or “barking spider”) is a species of tarantula native to the east coast of Queensland, Australia. The name “whistling tarantula” comes from its ability to produce a hissing noise when provoked, a trait it shares with other Australian theraphosids. This hissing is produced by the spider stridulating a patch of setae associated with its chelicerae. It has also been called the “eastern tarantula”. The species name crassipes is Latin for “fat leg” referring to the relatively fat front legs.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Subphylum: Chelicerata
- Class: Arachnida
- Order: Araneae
- Infraorder: Mygalomorphae
- Family: Theraphosidae
- Genus: Selenocosmia
- Species: S. crassipes
- Binomial name: Selenocosmia crassipes
The Australian tarantulas belong to four genera, Selenocosmia (four described species), Selenotholus and Selenotypus (with one species each), and Phlogiellus (undescribed species) in the family Theraphosidae. They have a large, heavy body, which varies in colour from dark chocolate-brown to pale fawn, often with a silvery sheen. Selenotypus plumipes is the only species that has long hairs on the rear legs, making it easily identifiable. However, it can be difficult to identify the other Australian tarantulas to species with many species as yet undescribed.
The thick footed tarantula has powerful long venomous fangs that can grow up to 1 centimetre (0.39 in) long. Its body is 6 centimetres (2.4 in) with a leg span of 16 centimetres (6.3 in) or larger than the size of man’s hand. Identification is relatively simple as this very large spider has thicker front legs than back legs. It is recognized as the largest spider in Australia. Due to the hissing sound the spider makes, it has acquired the nickname “barking spider”. They make a whistling sound if they are approached and feel threatened, hence the name “whistling spider”. This species is quite shy and normally does not wander far from its burrow. Females live up to thirty years, males up to eight years
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 the sometimes used common names bird-eating spider and bird spider, this nocturnal ground dwelling species is not likely to ever encounter or feed on birds. These spiders predominately feed upon invertebrates including insects and other spiders. Small vertebrates such as geckos, skinks and frogs are also part of the diet.
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.