Reddish parachute spider (Poecilotheria rufilata)

Also known as: red slate ornamental, red slate ornamental tarantula, reddish parachute tarantula, rufus parachute spider, Travancore slate-red
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassArachnida
OrderAraneae
FamilyTheraphosidae
GenusPoecilotheria (1)
SizeMale total length: c. 3.2 cm (2) (3)
Female total length: c. 6 cm (3)
Male carapace length: c. 1.7 cm (2) (3)
Female carapace length: c. 3 cm (3)
Top facts

The reddish parachute spider is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The parachute spiders, including the reddish parachute spider (Poecilotheria rufilata), are so-called due to a unique behaviour that has been observed numerous times in the wild. When a male parachute spider is alarmed it will sometimes jump out of its tree and sail like a leaf to the ground, where it will be camouflaged in the leaf litter (4).

The ‘reddish’ part of the reddish parachute spider’s name originates from its reddish-coloured appearance, as it has red bristles on the undersides of its third and fourth pairs of legs (2). Tarantulas of the genus Poecilotheria are known for their large size and their bright colouring (5) (6). On the upper side of the body, parachute spiders have relatively dull brown and grey colouration, which they may use as camouflage, whereas on the underside they are often brightly coloured, featuring iridescent hues. When a parachute spider feels threatened, it may raise its forelegs into the air to reveal its bright colours and warn potential predators that it is venomous and has irritating bristles (5).

The reddish parachute spider is generally greyish above with faint mottling (3), and its carapace has a greenish tinge and faint white lines (6). A black spot on either side of the eyes gives a mask-like appearance (6). The lower sides of the abdomen and body are velvety black, and there are large yellow patches on the undersides of the first and second pair of legs (3) (6).

As is common in tarantulas, the female reddish parachute spider is much larger than the male. Another interesting distinction is that the first and fourth legs of males are the same length, whereas in females the first legs are considerably longer than the fourth legs (3).

The first reddish parachute spider was found by British zoologist Reginald Innes Pocock in Trivandrum in Travancore, southwest India (2). This species is endemic to the southern Western Ghats of India, and has an overall range of less than 5,000 square kilometres (1).

The reddish parachute spider and other members of the Poecilotheria genus are arboreal spiders, spinning light webs to live in between tree branches or in hollow tree trunks (5) (6). The habitat of the reddish parachute spider is normally humid forests, but it has also been found in plantations and human villages (1).

The reddish parachute spider is a little-studied species, and next to nothing is known about its breeding biology in the wild (1). The sexually mature male reddish parachute spider has a pear-shaped palpal organ with a short, thick, spirally crested spine. The palpal organ is used to transfer sperm to the female during mating (3).

Parachute spiders do not use a web to capture insects. Instead, they hide in a branch or hole and ambush passing prey, using venom to immobilize it (7). The reddish parachute spider has been observed to prey on young bats (8). The venom of the reddish parachute spider changes as the spider grows, which may indicate that it eats different prey at different life stages (9).

Population figures for the reddish parachute spider are unavailable, but as it is an endemic species found only in small, fragmented areas in India, it is thought that its population trend is decreasing (1).

Threats to the reddish parachute spider include habitat loss and fragmentation as trees are lost to the timber trade. This colourful spider is also coveted by animal collectors for the pet trade as it does not breed well in captivity, meaning individuals continue to be taken from the wild. Additionally, the reddish parachute spider has a bad reputation with local people, who may kill it if they find it in their homes (1).

Currently, the reddish parachute spider and its relatives are not listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It has been recommended that the reddish parachute spider be included under Appendix II of CITES, which would mean that international trade in this species should be carefully controlled. This colourful spider also needs to be protected in India under wildlife protection acts, to prevent it being removed from the wild for the pet trade (1).

The reddish parachute spider has been reported to occur in Agastyavanam Reserve in India, and it is believed to also occur in reserve forests and private plantations near the city of Trivandrum (1).

Find out more about conservation in India:

Find out more about the wildlife of the Western Ghats, India:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Pocock, R.I. (1899) Diagnoses of some new Indian Arachnida. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 12: 744-753.
  3. Pocock, R.I. (1900) Arachnida. In: Blanford, W.T. (Ed.) The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Taylor and Francis, London.
  4. Molur, S. and Siliwal, M. (2004) Common names of South Asian Theraphosid spiders (Araneae: Theraphosidae). Zoo’s Print Journal, 19(10): 1657-1662.
  5. Pocock, R.I. (1899) The genus Poecilotheria: its habits, history and species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 3: 82-96.
  6. Sebastian, P.A. and Peter, K.V. (2009) Spiders of India. Universities Press (India) Private Limited, Hyderabad, India.
  7. 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 Theraphosidae in Sri Lanka. Ceylon Journal of Science (Biological Sciences), 34: 75-86.
  8. Das, K.S.A., Sreekala, L.K. and Abdurahiman, O. (2012) Short note: Predation on the Kelaart’s pipistrelle bat, Pipistrellus ceylonicus Kelaart (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae), by the reddish parachute tarantula, Poecilotheria rufilata Pocock (Araneae: Theraphosidae), in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India. Tropical Natural History, 12(2): 257-260.
  9. Escoubas, P., Corzo, G., Whiteley, B.J., Célérier, M.L. and Nakajima, T. (2002) Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry and high-performance liquid chromatography study of quantitative and qualitative variation in tarantula spider venoms. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 16: 403-413.