A Bornean Tarantula with Iridescent Teal ‘Toes’


The Tarantula’s Tree

In Borneo, between the Danau Girang Field Centre and the jetty stands a tree. To look at it you wouldn’t think of it as being any more worthy of attention than any of the other thousands of trees in the rainforest. However, this tree is the home of a rather large tarantula.

Tarantula Tree (2)

The hollow above is where she lives, but she is not visible by day.

How Big is She?

We were able to estimate her size by a skin she had shed that we found sitting nearby. It had approximately a seven to eight inch leg span. Just imagine: she left this skin because she had out grown it!

Getting the Shot

On several occasions, we attempted to take some snaps of her. But, to use my macro lens, I had to get close. Very close. We were also told to be very still as the tiniest noise or movement from us would send her back into her lair, or stop her from showing her face at all.

One night, we returned to the tree and saw a small tarantula, maybe five centimetres long including the legs, sitting at the entrance. We had been informed that she had recently had offspring, and that some may still be residing with her. This must have been one of her young.

Theraphosidae [Tarantula] Sabah, Borneo 11-10-2017 (2).jpg

Then, with a bit of stealth and patience she finally emerged.

Theraphosidae [Tarantula] Sabah, Borneo 11-10-2017 (9).jpg
Click to zoom in
Through my view finder she looked quite intimidating. She was definitely the largest spider I had ever come across.

Phormingochilus sp [Tarantula] Sabah, Borneo 11-10-2017
Click to zoom in

Iridescent Teal ‘Toes’

Later, back at the field centre, I peered down at the sequence of shots and noticed the iridescent teal sheen from the pads on her legs. After a bit of reading, it turns out that many spiders sport the iridescent teal ‘toes’.

Theraphosidae [Tarantula] Sabah, Borneo 11-10-2017 (10).jpg
Click to zoom in


During our stay we also came across a smaller individual on the other side of the path inhabiting a hole in a vine.

Theraphosidae [Tarantula] Sabah, Borneo 11-10-2017 (6).jpg
Click to zoom in


And, for our final tarantula: Whilst on a night walk, a guide notice a large brown individual clinging to a tree next to me. This may well be a male or a different species all together.


If anyone can shed some light on the genus or species of  the tarantulas photographed, we’d love to know.

Our best guess is that the tarantulas that we found in Sabah are from the Phormingochilus genus of spiders.  The genus was first described in 1895 by Pocock. As of 2016, it contains 5 Asian species.


  • The name tarantula originates from the Italian town of Taranto.


  • Female tarantulas can live to approximately 30 years, whilst males can live up to approximately 12 years.


  • Despite giving some people the heebie-jeebies, tarantulas are not as hazardous to health as some might think. They may give a painful bite if harassed, with some bites causing serious discomfort that might persist for several days. The exception here being cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). But, so far, there is no record of a bite causing a human fatality.


  • Tarantulas undergo moults by which they shed their skin (exoskeleton) and some internal organs. During this replacement process, lost appendages can regrow. They do this as they grow larger. Their new exoskeleton then hardens and is spacious enough to allow some more growth before the next moult.


  • Tarantulas do not form webs to catch their prey. Instead, they stalk live prey or wait for prey close to their hollows. Tarantulas then pounce and inject venom as well as digestive enzymes to help with consumption.


  • Tarantulas have been around 150 million years. Like their modern descendants, ancient tarantulas had fangs that moved up and down rather sideways as is usually the case with other spiders.


  • As well as having tarsal claws for grip, spiders have tarsal scopula (dense tufts of hair), which are equipt with setae (hairs for sensing the environment), which are further covered by numerous setules (small hairs for increasing grip). Scopulae and setules are used for friction and adhesion on smooth surfaces.


  •  The iridescent sheen to the pads of spider feet are a result of these tiny hairs reflecting light. It is thought that the bright colours also act as a deterrent. When tarantulas are threatened they raise their front legs, displaying their iridescent feet as well as their fangs.


  • Tarantulas are popular in the pet trade. This may act to the detriment of tarantulas in the wild, although habitat destruction is probably the biggest threat they face.

Want to read more?

If you’d like to read more about our trip to Borneo and the wildlife we encountered there, check out some of our other blog posts here:

Zoomology DGFC

Zoomology Lantern Bug Post

References and Further Reading

BBC Website, Tarantulas – http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Tarantula
(Retrieved 18 November, 2017)

National Geographic Website, Tarantulas – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/group/tarantulas/
(Retrieved 18 November, 2017)

Theraphosidae Website, Anatomoy – http://www.theraphosidae.be/en/vogelspinnen/anatomy/
(Retrieved 18 November, 2017)

Wikipedia Website, Phormingochilus – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phormingochilus
(Retrieved 18 November, 2017)

Wikipedia Website, Tarantula –  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarantula
(Retrieved 18 November, 2017)

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Your article was so interesting that I actually DID read it and look at the photos despite the fearsome appearance of the subject! You’ve done an awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Liz! Haha, I’m really glad you were able to make it through the post! 😛 They really are beautiful creatures!


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it is funny! I wouldn’t have liked to be the one taking the photos but I feel safe enough when looking at my laptop screen!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. iAMsafari says:

    Awesome shots guys. I’m pretty sure they are all Phormingochilus everetti, no 1. and 2. females, no 3. male

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Maurice! And, thanks for the I.D. also! It certainly looks about right. 🙂


      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing photos! Courageous going in that close, rather you than me! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Helen!



  4. Graham says:

    Holy cow! (Or spider)…amazing to see…despite being told the size I still can’t really imagine how I’d feel if there was one next to me on a tree. I’d like to think I wouldn’t run away. 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Yes, amazing to see! I definitely had a healthy respect for her, too. 😛


      Liked by 1 person

  5. jeccav says:

    Oh, what a beauty! I love the colors — the teal reminds me of a cobalt blue I kept years ago. (He wasn’t nearly as big, though!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jecca. 🙂 We were very excited when we first noticed the iridescent teal colour under her legs, too. Just beautiful!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s