Face-Sized Tarantula Found In Sri Lanka; Poecilotheria Rajaei Named After Local Cop [PHOTO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on April 4, 2013 10:09 AM EDT

Face-sized Tarantula
This face-sized tarantula is native to Sri Lanka, making it fairly easy to avoid. (Photo: Facebook)

A face-sized tarantula has been discovered in Sri Lanka, and photos of the gargantuan tarantula quickly went viral across social media sites Facebook and Tumblr. The face-sized tarantula is named Poecilotheria rajaei  and is named after local police officer Michael Rajakumar Purajah who helped scientists navigate the treacherous natural and political climate of post-civil war Sri Lanka.  The face-sized tarantula belongs to the genus Poecilotheria and has a distinct pink marking on its abdomen that helps it stand out from other tarantulas.

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According to Wikipedia, Poecilotheria is a genus of the family Theraphosidae containing various species of arboreal tarantula. This genus is known for vivid colour patterns, fast movement, and potent venom compared to other tarantulas. The genus is native to Sri Lanka and India. The name Poecilotheria is derived from Greek "poikilos" - spotted and "therion" - wild beast. Pokie is a common name used for some of the species.

The face-sized tarantula bears distinct leg markings, including yellow and grey inlays on its first and fourth legs, that help distinguish it from other members of Poecliotheria. Scientists were first alerted to the existence of the face-sized tarantula in 2009 when a local villager brought a dead male specimen to Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka's Biodiversity Education and Research. It was then that his team enlisted the help of inspector Purajah to aid them in their search for more specimens of the face-sized tarantula, including female and juvenile spiders.

"They are quite rare," Nanayakkara told Wired. "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."

Despite the shocking photos of the face-sized tarantula, and the extensive amount of field research done by Nanayakkara and his team, not all arachnologists think a new species has been discovered. Robert Raven, curator at the Queensland Museum in Australia, told Wired he's not 100 percent sure the face-sized tarantula is a new discovery.

"The description and figures are excellent and will provide a good basis for establishing whether it is a good species," he said. The genus Poecilotheria has not been taxonomically revised. Popping new species out in that situation is always going to be fraught with doubt and difficulty."

Peter Kirk, editor of the British Tarantula Society's journal, which published a study describing the spider in December, told Wired he too has doubts the face-sized tarantula is a completely new species.

"This species has enough significant differences to separate it from the other species.  I absolutely would love to see DNA sampling done - on all the species of Poecilotheria," he said. "When it comes down to taxonomy, it's not a hard and fast science. Until we get to things like DNA sampling."

The face-sized tarantula isn't the only giant spider making headlines recently. In March, a new study revealed that bat-eating spiders exist on every continent except Antarctica.

"The observation of bat-catching by spiders is not that peculiar if we consider the fact that a number of larger-sized spiders are known to supplement their arthropod diet by occasionally preying on vertebrates," wrote Martin Nyffeler and Mirjam Knornschild in the study.

Although it hasn't been reported what the face-sized tarantula likes to eat we sincerely hope it prefers bats over faces.

Sorry bats.

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