Giant Spider Dines on the Heaviest Insects on Earth

Rangatira spider on Mangere Island, NZ: Mark Anderson/Flickr

Want to meet a spider so large it eats the heaviest insects on earth for breakfast? Head to New Zealand.

The Rangatira spider (Dolomedes schauinslandi) is a colossal arachnid found only on three relatively undisturbed islands of New Zealand – and it eats giant wētā for dinner.

The robust spider, which is one of the largest and rarest in New Zealand, measures nearly 5 inches across and is thought to be the “over-sized relative” of the nursery web spider (Dolomedes minor) found on the mainland.

Scientists believe that the giant spiders were able to maintain populations on these select islands because mammals — namely cats, rats, and mice, which wreaked havoc on the wildlife on other neighboring islands in New Zealand — have not been introduced there. Small mammals and birds are thought to be the Rangatira’s only predators.

The Rangatira spider is generally active at night and, despite their drab brown and orange coloring, you definitely won’t miss them — the shine from their eyes can apparently be spotted more than 60 feet away in a headlight beam. The creatures emerge from their lairs in the evenings to patrol the forest floor for their favorite meal: wētā. These insects, some of which are among the heaviest on the planet, are endemic to New Zealand.

The largest species of weta are considered to be the heaviest insects on earth. Image: Dinobass/ Wikimedia Commons

Although Rangatira spiders do produce webs, they are actually active hunters, pouncing on the wētā rather than trapping their victims in silk.

Very little is known about these rare arachnids; If you want to know more, you may just have to make a trip to South East Island (Rangatira in Maori) of the Chatham Islands and find out for yourself.

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