Creepy Critter #2: Goliath Bird-Eating Spider

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Creepy Critter #2: Goliath Bird-Eating Spider

The name almost says it all, right? Wrong – it’s a good indicator and largely what you’d expect, but this Amazonian arachnid is even creepier than what you’d imagine in your nightmares!

This “new world” tarantula is (arguably) the world’s largest spider (measuring by its legspan and mass), growing to have an 11-inch legspan and weigh over 6 ounces. That’s as big as a dinner plate! imgres

At a size like that, you’d expect this seriously spooky spider to use its inch-long fangs to rip its prey to shreds, right? Well it does something even creepier. The Goliath Bird-Eating Spider sinks its fangs into its victims – usually insects, frogs, or mice – then inject venomous juices into them, turning the animal’s insides into mush that the spider then slurps out.

Don’t let that make you think its bite is safe, because that’s definitely not the case. “You absolutely still don’t want to be bitten by one of them,” says TSA Aquarist Ryan Drum. “A bite from one will induce nausea, cause severe sweating and light-headedness, not to mention hurt really badly.” images

…And we haven’t even gotten to its defensive mechanism yet.

This species of spider is especially known for its highly developed and highly effective defensive move called “urticating.” When threatened, the spider will release hair-like bristles from its body, enveloping the perceived threat in a cloud of tiny, almost invisible hairs that are extremely irritating to skin, and can cause real problems if they get into delicate, sensitive mucous membranes around the eyes or mouth, explains Drum.

“Another thing that many will find creepy is that fact that females can lay anywhere from 100 to 200 eggs at a time and, like female Praying Mantises, also sometimes eat the males,” he says.

TSA’s resident Goliath Bird-Eating Spider, Debbie Hairy, will be on display in our Amazon exhibit – come see her tomorrow at Green Halloween!

Creepy Critter #3: Sand Tiger Shark

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Creepy Critter #3: Sand Tiger Shark

Dun, dun. Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun. DUN, DUN, DUN, DUN, DUUUUN! Though no Great White, if seeing the protrusive teeth of a Sand Tiger Shark doesn’t start the JAWS theme song playing in your head, something is wrong. TSA Omni3

These decidedly ferocious-looking beasts boast a mouthful of terrifying teeth that are even visible when their mouths are shut. They can go through thousands of teeth in a lifetime, losing up to hundreds per year. And even with all those teeth, this predator still swallows its food whole!

Most Sand Tiger Sharks range in size from 6.5 up to 10.5 feet and they can weigh anywhere from 200 lbs to 350 lbs. And despite their intimidating size, they eat little, and can go for extensive periods without feeding.

The stealth hunter gets its name from its tendency to reside near shoreline habitats, and they are often seen trolling the ocean floor in the surf zone, very close to shore. They are found in warm or temperate waters throughout the world’s oceans, except the eastern Pacific. images

Something that sets the Sand Tiger Shark apart from other carnivorous fish is its ability to self adjust its buoyancy levels. The shark will break the surface of the ocean, gulp air, and then store the air in its stomach, allowing it to float motionless in the water. All the better to silently stalk prey… Hans

Though this species of shark has relatively plentiful numbers, they have a scarily low reproduction rate and are thus listen as threatened on the worldwide species list, meaning they are vulnerable to endangerment in the future.

Visit Hans, our very own Sand Tiger Shark, at the Islands of Steel exhibit this Saturday for Green Halloween and learn more spooky shark facts!

Creepy Critter #4: Green Moray Eel

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Creepy Critter #4: Green Moray Eel

What’s green, slippery, slithery, looks slightly undead, and lurks under rocks in the ocean? Nope, not Frankenstein – we’re talking about the Green Moray Eel. Green Moray Eel

This creepy critter can be found anywhere from the western Atlantic Ocean, to Bermuda, the northern Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Brazil. Their sinuous, snake-like appearance ups their “ick” factor, but not as much as the fact that they’re actually covered in mucus does! It’s hard to believe, but these species – so known for their vibrant lime green color – is actually brown. The yellow tint of mucus that its body is coated in is yellow, thereby giving this spooky, serpentine creature its signature hue.

TSA Aquarist Rafael Calderon added another creepy fact to this animal’s repertoire of weirdness. “It’s kind of cool, even alien-like, but the Green Moray actually has two pairs of jaws, a primary and a pharyngeal, meaning it’s located deeper inside the eel’s throat,” he explains. “The first set of jaws grabs and holds the prey and the second sucks in the food and eats it whole.” That prey is normally fish, squid, shrimp, crab, and octopus. eel jaws

These incredibly successful predators can allegedly grow to be up to eight feet in length, and they come equipped with some seriously scary teeth. Curved and sharp, you can see them when the eels open and close their mouths every so often, something they do to breathe.  Although this behavior may appear threatening, the eel is actually taking in water to breathe. The water passes over its gills and exits through vent-like openings at the back of the creature’s head. 

“They don’t really play well with others, either,” says Calderon, “Green Morays are very territorial, and if they don’t like you in their space, or if you’re getting too close, they’ll let you know it.”

Another creepy fact via Calderon is that Green Morays love tight, enclosed spaces. No claustrophobia for these scale-less swimmers.

The Texas State Aquarium is home to three Green Moray eels, Russell, Scooter, and Houdini – come get a load of these alien-like fish this Saturday at Green Halloween!

Creepy Critter #5: Eurasian Eagle Owl

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Eurasian Owl graphic.fwEyes as big as half dollars and as yellow-orange as a harvest moon stare straight into yours, the intense gaze of the apex predator creeping into your soul…or at least that’s how some may feel. The long look a Eurasian Eagle Owl can give you is not one you’ll soon forget. 

These owls are native to Europe and Asia, and are among the biggest in the entire world – they can reportedly boast a six-and-a-half-foot wingspan! Within this impressive wingspan are serrated (like the teeth on a knife) wing feathers that enable the owl to glide almost silently through the night, stalking its prey – unbeknownst – from the sky. Jessica & Brutus

“It’s a really cool adaptation,” says Bird and Mammal Trainer Jessica Brown, “Also the soft, downy feathers underneath help absorb sound and any turbulence they encounter in the air, making them even quieter.”

 Eurasian Eagle Owls hunt using their silent flight, keen eyesight, and impeccable hearing. Brown says that like other species of owl, eagle owls have facial disks, or groups of feathers around their ears, that actually direct sounds toward their ears. Owls can raise these feathers slightly when on the hunt, enabling them to hear the rustle of a mouse in the grass, the flapping of feathers in the night, or the slithering of a snake in a tree branch. These sounds give away the location of prey animals, making it easy for these owls to swiftly swoop in to catch a meal – and their pointed, powerful talons can exert 500 pounds of PSI (pressure per inch)! Compared to the human hand’s 30 lbs of PSI, that’s scarily strong. “They normally hunt rodents like rabbits and rats, but they’ll also eat other raptors, and they can even take down small deer,” explains Brown.

The scariest thing about this creature, however, is its history. During the first half of the 20th century, Eurasian Eagle Owl numbers declined radically as humans over-hunted and nearly poisoned the whole population. Local European governments began increasing protective measures regarding the owls, and they are now back to a healthier number, though not as populous as they once were. Brutus

TSA’s resident Eurasian Eagle Owl, Brutus, will be one featured creature you can meet at Green Halloween this Saturday!