05/04/2013 12:00 BST | Updated 05/04/2013 12:27 BST

Giant Venomous Tarantula, Poecilotheria Rajaei, The Size Of A Human Face, Discovered In Sri Lanka (PICTURE)

A giant, poisonous tarantula the size of a human face has been discovered living in Mankulam, Sri Lanka.

The Poecilotheria rajaei (belonging to the genus Poecilotheria, or ‘Pokies’ for short), is so named after the local police officer Michael Rajakumar Purajah, who escorted scientists through the post civil war northern region of the island, and can reach a legspan of up to eight inches.

And this is no lumbering slowcoach like most of the big meaty spiders we've had to come to terms with.

giant tarantula discovered

(Photo credit: Ranil Nanayakkara)

The arboreal tiger spider is known for being colourful – sporting a natty combination of gray, pink and daffodil yellow, and it boasts “lightening-fast speed and potent venom”, The British Tarantula Society Journal reveals.

“They are quite rare,” Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of the Sri Lankan organisation Biodiversity Education and Research, told Wired.

He added: “They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings.”

While a dead specimen was found by a villager in 2009, it wasn't until late 2012 that the first live spiders were discovered.


As a group, the spiders are related to a class of South American tarantulas including the world’s largest spider the Goliath bird-eater, Mother Nature Network points out.

Deforestation is one of Sri Lanka's chief environmental concerns. According to a 2009 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 80 percent of Sri Lanka was once covered by closed canopy natural forest. By 1994, forest cover had decreased to 24 percent. The report linked deforestation to reduction of the island nation's biodiversity, among other issues.

Although some experts would like to conduct DNA sampling to determine whether the giant tarantula is in fact a new species, taxonomical evidence strongly suggests that it is a member of the genus Poecilotheria.

According to National Geographic, the goliath birdeater tarantula of South America may be the largest spider in the world, with a leg-span that can reach up to a foot in diameter.

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