Harvard Photographer’s Blog About ‘Puppy-Sized Spider’ Leads to Death Threats

People loved—and were terrified by—his story about an encounter with the world's largest arachnid, but they disapproved of his choice to capture it for research purposes.

When Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology photographer and entomologist Piotr Naskrecki recently published a blog post about running into the world’s largest spider back in 2012, with terrifying photos accompanying his recollection, the response was as large as the arachnid specimen.

“I am thrilled that a story about an invertebrate could elicit such an overwhelming response,” Naskrecki said in a follow-up to his original story, which was picked up by New York Daily News, Yahoo!, and USA Today. It quickly became the “14th most-shared story in the world,” according to him.

But as people learned that Naskrecki actually captured the hairy, eight-legged “Goliath birdeater,” a rare breed of arachnid that can weigh as much as “a young puppy,” the tides began to shift. Angry comments started piling up in the form of “death threats” and “ill-informed rants” about him bringing the spider, which feasts on birds and earthworms, back to a lab, and later, to a museum.

“I read the article which ended by stating that the spider ended up in a museum. I’m assuming you killed it to study it. Didn’t you have enough knowledge about that spider already? If they are so rare and harmless to humans, what purpose did it serve to destroy it?,” one person wrote on Naskrecki’s Facebook page.

Another said: “Your [sic] nothing but a poacher. I mean that’s what poachers do kill rare animals for gratification of some kind money, fame what ever it’s all the same. You, the place that employes [sic] you and the museum should be shamed.”

After he was hammered by insults for an entire day, Naskrecki finally responded to the complaints and accusations that he killed the female Goliath birdeater that he found in the Guyana rainforest a few years ago, calling out people for their lack of knowledge on the subject of studying animals and their habitats.

“While talking to a reporter I explained that one of the specimens I describe in the blog had been collected and placed in a museum. This, combined with my comment of having seen this species only a handful of times, triggered a tsunami of self-righteous outrage at my murderous act which, according to the most vocal individuals, is bound to drive this species to extinction,” Naskrecki said. “Collecting and preservation of physical specimens is an integral, irreplaceable element of biological sciences. There is hardly a branch of biology that does not rely on the examination of organisms’ bodies…there is absolutely no evidence that any scientist has ever driven a species to extinction.”

Naskrecki explained that him removing one of the spiders from the rainforest, which was “properly euthanized and preserved,” is no different from people killing insects involuntarily with the “light fixtures of your house or the grill of your car,” which are likely “full of dead insects and spiders.”

“That highway that you drive to work—each mile of it equals millions of animals and plants that were exterminated during its construction,” he said, defending the decision to kill the spider humanely and donate it to a museum, an act he said could one day help researchers immensely.

Regardless of the threats and outbursts from people who happen upon his story of stumbling upon a spider capable of “puncturing a mouse’s skull” with its fangs, the Harvard researcher seems to be taking everything in stride.

Because of the viral fame, he’s offering prints of the photographs he took, as well as T-shirts and mugs. “To celebrate the notoriety of the Goliath spider story, you can purchase a high quality print of this amazing animal at an unusually low, low price!” he wrote on Facebook.