Rameshwaram parachute spider (Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica)

Also known as: Rameshwaram ornamental
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassArachnida
OrderAraneae
FamilyTheraphosidae
GenusPoecilotheria (1)
SizeMale total length: c. 4.3 cm (2)
Female total length: c. 6.7 cm (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Named after the Indian island of Rameshwaram, this tree-dwelling tarantula has light and dark tiger-like markings on its body and legs that are typical of spiders in the genus Poecilotheria (1) (2). The Rameshwaram parachute spider can be distinguished from most other spiders in this genus by the distinct yellow colour of the underside of the front legs (2), and it differs from its closest relative Poecilotheria fasciata (the Sri Lankan ornamental tarantula) by an unbroken, narrow black band on a segment of the leg called the ‘femur’ (2). Furthermore, the underside of this species’ hind legs shows a distinct lilac colouration (2). Males tend to be smaller than females and have elongated markings on the legs (2).

The Rameshwaram parachute spider is found, as its name suggests, on Rameshwaram Island, an island situated just off the coast of Tamil Nadu, India, as well as on an adjacent area of the mainland (1).

This species primarily lives in tree palm, coconut or tamarind plantations, but has also been found in thatch-roofed huts and other human habitations (1) (2).

Little is known about this particular species; however, spiders of the genus Poecilotheria commonly live in well protected, small, dark cavities such as in tree holes, tree trunks, under tree bark and in house walls (3). These spiders feed primarily on insects and, unlike other spiders which utilise webs to capture prey, Poecilotheria spiders actively catch their prey, by attacking the insect from their hidden cavity and injecting paralyzing venom (3).

Female Rameshwaram parachute spiders tend to live for several breeding seasons and return to the same nest or cavity year after year (1). In contrast, males typically only survive one season (1). A single female can produce numerous spiderlings; the greatest number of offspring recorded from a single female being 52 (1).

The Rameshwaram parachute spider is listed as Critically Endangered, mostly due to the destruction of the species’ natural habitat (1). Suitable habitat for this parachute spider is destroyed to make way for housing, recreational areas, other urban developments (1), and extensive rice paddy fields (4).

There are currently no protection laws in place to secure survival of this highly threatened species (1). The British Tarantula Society (BTS) in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London proposed to establish the Hanumavilasum temple, home to the largest colony of Rameshwaram parachute spiders, as a Spider Sanctuary (2) (5). Unfortunately, the sanctuary was never established, hampered by Indian wildlife politics and this important spider population remains unprotected (4).

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Information authenticated (09/12/09) by Andrew Smith, British Tarantula Society.

  1. IUCN Red List (November 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Smith, A.M. (2004) A new species of the arboreal theraphosid, genus Poecilotheria, from Southern India (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosidae) with notes on its conservation status. Journal of the British Tarantula Society, 19(2): 48-61.
  3. Samarawckrama, V.A.M.P.K., Janananda, M.D.B.G., Ranawana, K.B. and Smith, A. (2005) Study of the distribution of the genus Poecilotheria of the family of theraphosidae in Sri Lanka. CeylonJournal of Science, 34: 75-86
  4. Smith, A. (November 2009) Pers. comm.
  5. Smith, A.M. (2007) The Hanumavilasum Tiger Spider Sanctuary.  The British Tarantula Society, UK. Available at:
    http://www.thebts.co.uk/poecilotheria.htm