Faced with Drowning, This Giant Tarantula Goes Out on a Limb

A giant, hairy tarantula that was clinging for dear life to a branch with all eight of its legs is now in a much safer — and somewhat drier — spot, thanks to two spider lovers who rescued it from a flooded street in Queensland, Australia.

Andrea Gofton posted a video of the daring rescue on Facebook Monday (March 12), Queensland time, saying, "My excitement for the day...saved a spider." [Goliath Birdeater: Images of a Colossal Spider]

Many people wouldn't protect a tarantula (most people don't even want to be in the same ZIP code as a poisonous arachnid), but that's not what's weird about this video, said Lorenzo Prendini, curator of arachnida and myriapoda at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. 

The weird thing is the tarantula's behavior, Prendini said.

This tarantula, thought to be a whistling spider, typically lives in a silk-lined burrow under the ground, Prendini said. But it has rained so much in north Queensland recently — more than 15 inches (40 centimeters) in four days, according to the Aussie news station nine.com.au— that the floodwater likely washed the tarantula out of its burrow, Prendini said. From there, the tarantula apparently scrambled up the tree limb to escape the rising waters.

"This is unusual behavior," Prendini told Live Science in an email. "Ordinarily, these spiders wait for the water to subside by climbing up their waterlogged tunnels." That's because tarantula burrows are usually in dry or well-drained ground, so part of the burrow would be above water level, he said.

These aren't small burrows, either. Some are up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) long and about 3.2 feet (1 m) deep, according to the Queensland Museum, in Australia.

"In this case, there was obviously too much water and the spider risked drowning if it remained in the burrow," Prendini said. "But, by climbing on the vegetation it also risked predation by birds [and other predators]."

In another video, Gofton shows her friend picking up the branch holding the tarantula and carrying it to a patch of grass. "We then placed him in a tree just in view in the video...it's up to nature now," Gofton wrote on Facebook.

Whistling spiders can stridulate (make a kind of hissing sound), hence their name, when they rub parts of their anatomy, such as their jaws, together, Prendini said.

The spider eats anything it can overpower, including insects such as beetles, locusts and crickets. They can be aggressive if mishandled, and their bite can kill cats and dogs. But there is only one report of a human getting seriously sick from the bite of any kind of tarantula, according to the Queensland Museum.

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.