Among the world’s most feared, despised and revered creatures are spiders. They appear in legends and myth from Greek Mythology to African folklore, and even appear as a 150 foot geoglyph in the Nazca desert in Peru. Spiders come in a variety of colors and sizes ranging from very tiny (the Samoan Moss spider measuring only 0.3mm) to extra large (the Goliath Bird eating spider measuring 12 inches) and to the huge J’ba Fofi (ch-bah foo fee) with a leg span measuring 4-6 feet in length!
The J’ba Fofi live deep in the Congo and according to the natives they build huge webs spanning from tree to tree using leaves as a sort of camouflage, often crossing game trails. In other parts of the Amazon the giant spiders use a different web technique where they dig burrows under tree roots, and cover the burrow with webs and trip lines which they camouflage with leaves (similar to the technique used by the trap door spider). The adults J’ba Fofi are said look like a giant tarantula, dark brown in color with a body measuring 28-30 inches in circumference (roughly the size of a basketball), with prominent fangs and very potent venom. When standing full form they are as tall a human.
The eggs of the J’ba Fofi are a pale yellow and are the size and shape of peanut shells (1 to 2 inches). Young J’ba Fofi are a bright yellow with a purple abdomen but become dark brown as they mature. The natives avoid these nests at all costs, often taking a longer route to their destination to avoid them.
The Native Peoples of the Congo tell stories of the giant Congolese spider coming into their villages killing livestock and taking away small animals and even children. What’s more is they build their huts with thatched roofs using a steep pitch to the ground and tightly spaced walls to prevent spiders from creeping inside. At a young age one villager claims to have seen one of these giant spiders come into his village, snatch up a small dog, inject it with it’s venom and return back into the jungle with the dog in its grip – all in just a matter of seconds.
One of the oldest reported sightings of the J’ba Fofi was in In 1890 from English Missionary Arthur Simes. He was on route to a village on the shore of Lake Nyasa in Uganda exploring as he traveled, when several of his porters became ensnared in a huge sticky web that hung from one tree to another and down to the ground. While in the process of cutting his porters from this web, which was incredibly difficult to cut through, two large spiders with a leg span of around four feet appeared and attacked the men trapped in the web. Simes fired his pistol at the spiders and they hurried away. Simes rescued his porters from the web, but the damage was already done, with in minutes of being rescued the men became feverish and the site of their bites became swollen, they died shortly afterwards.
One of the most well known and documented sightings came from Reginald (R.K) Lloyd and his wife in 1938. They were driving down a road when they spotted what they first thought may be a monkey, however as they drove closer they were astonishment to find it was a spider as big as a jungle cat. They estimated the leg span was five feet. The Lloyds where people of good character and were quite familiar with the wildlife in Africa.
During the Kokado Track Campaign (1942-1943) of World War 2, an Australian solider came upon a large web ten to fifteen feet across. Within this web he saw a puppy-sized spider he described it as being all black with a thick body with hair like a tarantula.
Another reported encounter during War World 2 came from a man named Craig, who told of how his grandfather happened upon a giant spider near Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Its web was three feet long, emerald green and shiny but surprisingly it was not hairy. Craig’s grandfather was so frightened by this huge spider that he killed it with his machete.
A person known only by the username “mrmaxima”, claims that their father-in-law said that while he was on a scouting mission in Vietnam as part of a five-man team, the team encountered massive spiders that had bodies the size of dinner plates and he estimated the total length of the legs to be 20-30 inches. The team opened fire on the spiders with their M16s and although they had been hit by bullets he claimed the spiders were still moving around. He also said the spiders were often seen near water sources, which would mean the Father-in-law had seen these spiders on multiple occasions during his time in Vietnam.
Another report comes from a woman named Debbie, who says the father of one of her friends, while serving in Vietnam, had walked into the bush to perform his daily constitutional. He noticed a very large spider web, it was the color of cotton and thread like, covering a 10-15 foot area horizontally and vertically including a tree. As he was looking over this impressive web he then saw a black spider the size of a small dog only a few feet from his head, it had thick legs, and a very bulky body. He left the area very slowly and very cautiously.
These giant spiders are not restricted to the thick jungles of the Congo or far away rain forests, they may be found in unexpected places, perhaps even our own back yards.
Shelia, a librarian, related her encounter from 2001. She was driving along Nottingham’s Stone Bridge Road one evening when her car’s head light shone on what she thought was a hedgehog, but as she drew closer it was clear that it wasn’t a hedgehog but rather a huge hairy spider. It resembled a tarantula, but was about the size of a dinner plate with legs about two feet long. She watched it crawl across the road and through a fence, once it passed she quickly drove away.
In 1948 William Slaydon along with his wife and three young grandsons were walking to church one evening along highway 171 in Leesville, Louisiana, U.S.A. They watched a massive black spider, the size of a wash tub and covered with hair, emerge from a ditch, cross the road in front of them disappearing into the shrubs on the other side of the road. As you can understand, the family said they never walked that stretch of road again.
In Kentucky in the summer of 1981 or 1982, Robert A. was mowing the grass for his elderly father who lived on a back road surrounded by thick woodland and at that time there were just a few houses in the area. It was a hot day and he had stopped to take a break at the far end of the property in the shade from a tree. Robert had only sat and leaned back against the tree for a few moments before he heard the pitter-patter of feet above him, which he thought was a squirrel until he turned to see the biggest spider he had ever seen in his life. It was as big as a hub cap and black in color. He ran back to the house to fetch his gun, but by the time he returned to the tree, the spider was gone. After the incident, Robert didn’t let his children play in the back yard any more.
In Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2016, a woman reported seeing what she called a giant house spider that was 1-2 feet in length, black or dark brown in color, running across her front yard one evening.
There have also been unconfirmed sightings of giant spiders in Cambodia, Central Africa, Australia, Venezuela, United Stated and Mexico.
Some of these sightings could be attributed to misidentification of known Tarantulas, or perhaps a pet which may have escaped from it’s owner, but what about the people who live along huge spiders everyday? The natives of the Congo know exactly what a spider is and often hunt regular size tarantulas as part of their diet, and why not, spiders are related to crabs after all.
Several specialty eateries are opening up in the USA and Canada featuring a variety of insects and arachnids; fried, toasted, baked or even covered in chocolate or caramel. In fact I passed by one such place in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada while on my way to see a giant spider name Kumo. I must admit it did take me a minute to process what I was reading as the specialty of the day, it was Grasshopper Fondue, which apparently goes very nice with a white wine. Surprisingly, this eatery was very busy that day. I personally have no desire to eat any type of insect or spiders, but many people do and say it tastes like chicken or crab. One village in Cambodia is so over run with spiders that they seem to drop from the sky on their heads, so they have taken to cooking them and serving them on a bed of rice with noodles with a rice wine or tea. The meals are apparently quite easy on the wallet too.
The descriptions of the J’ba Fofi all resemble a tarantula, one even bigger then the bird eating Tarantula. The only fossil evidence for such an enormous arachnid is the Jaeklopterus Rhenaniae, a giant sea scorpion that lived 390 million years ago and measured over 8 feet in length.
Many scientists speculate that the J’ba Fofi is some species of land crab like the Coconut Crab, and although they have a common ancestor, there are several attributes to consider:
Appearance: crabs are not covered in hair (though some species have tiny hairs on their pincers to feel vibrations).
Crabs have pincers not fangs (they have no venom ducts, or a delivery system for venom, even though some crabs are poisonous if eaten).
Crabs are slow moving and have restricted movement because of their shells.
The other argument experts make is about the spider’s lungs. Spiders have a simple respiratory system and it restricts their growth, they have one of two types of lungs:
Book lungs (evolved from gills) are like their name implies, they look like the pages of a book, and how many pages they have depends on the species of spider. Tarantulas have two sets of book lungs.
The other type of lung is called Trachea tubes which is located at the posterior end. They consist of long tubes with small holes on the belly of the spider and travel throughout the spider’s body letting air be absorbed through the skin.
With that in mind let’s consider the Coconut Crab, it grows up to three feet and is the largest Arthropod, a family that includes insects, spiders, and crustaceans. The coconut crab lives primarily on land, and only returns to the sea to lay their eggs. They have neither book lungs nor Trachea tubes but rather a Branchiostegal lung, a unique adaption in evolution between gills and lungs. The folds of tissue absorb oxygen from air rather then water.
Spiders have been evolving for more than 380 million years, from the first spider that was crab-like, to the more than 40,000 species of spiders found around the world today, with new species found every year. According to National Geographic, there were fifty new spider species found in Australia in the past couple years alone.
The existence of a giant species of spider, such as the J’ba Fofi certainly seams plausible, unfortunately the natives of the Congo say these giant spiders use to be plentiful, but with humans encroaching further in to the spider’s natural habitat, the elusive giant arachnid’s population is in decline. Sadly the tales of giant spiders may forever remain just another tale.