Fantasy and folklore has many instances of giant spiders,ranging from creatures like the J'ba Fofi to Aragog from Harry Potter. My question intends to ask whether a creature like the J'ba Fofi could have evolved.

A Hypothetical Image of the J'ba Fofi

On a planet with conditions identical to Earth, how could a giant spider with a leg-span of 1 meter evolve? Could it produce silk and how much could it produce if it could? Could it walk without violating the Square Cube Law? How could it breathe?

This question is part of the Anatomically Correct Series.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Why, why would you want one? Honestly nightmare fuel I did NOT need. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jun 24 '19 at 16:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/78425/… or worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/57348/… $\endgroup$ – Ranger Jun 24 '19 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ The giant huntsman spider (Heteropoda maxima) and the Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) are real extant spiders and have leg spans of about 0.3 meters (1 American foot). Spiders have luungs for breathing and oxygen-carrying blood. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 24 '19 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP It is called lung, but more precisely they are booklungs. They are a far cry from what most would consider a "normal" lung. $\endgroup$ – Lupus Jun 24 '19 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Lupus: Organs which perform gas exchange between air and blood are called lungs. Yes, spider book lungs have a different structure from verterbrate alveolar lungs. And the oxygen carrying pigment is different too. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 24 '19 at 18:00

I am going to reuse parts of my answer to Anatomically correct Arachne, which is related but not a duplicate.

We cannot approach this as if the only way for this creature to exist to exist is in the form of a giant nope spider thing without any modifications to its spider anatomy. That would be silly.

We all evolved from very small animals that lived underwater, yet here we are in human form. A much larger stretch than having arthropods growing into big sizes.

Specially because in prehistoric times, we did have arthropods that were quite big. The largest arachnid ever was a 70 cm long scorpion. That's a little over two feet, or 28 inches. It had aquatic cousins that could grow up to 2.5 meters long (that's over eight feet), though. Granted, those beasts had their weight supported by water, but look at that... An arthropod larger than a man! Not only that, but we know that there's less oxygen available in water than in air, so how could the square-cube law allow for that?

Well, besides evidences that our atmosphere was more rich in oxygen millions of years ago, there is also the fact that those arthropods had evolved their internal anatomy to allow for those sizes.

Let's go back to the creature in the quedtion then.

Imagine if you will a prehistoric nope tarantula. It lives in a world where there is more oxygen available than Earth right now, because that's how prehistoric Earth was like. Our prehistoric nope spider is under many different evolutionary pressures, and a larger size is conferring it increased rates of survivability and reproduction.

To allow for that, the nope tarantula starts developing, throughout generations, some unusual characteristics for a spider. For example, a mutation gives it layers of skeleton, so besides the external chitinous one, the spider has internal ones as well. Over time the external skeleton is replaced with soft but thick leather. This allows it to replace its book lungs with mammal (or bird)-like lungs, which are much more efficient.

Over time, as this species of nope tarantula grows, it will evolve a circulatory system much like a worm's at first, then that of a vertebrate.

As for the abdomen, it resembles that of a reptile or amphibian more and more, with different organs going through convergent evolution to take the roles of a liver, a spleen, a pancreas and so on. Nopes spiders have excretory organs in their legs, but this species's excretory organs move to the abdomen over time.

Now, nopes spiders are known for being very agile with their legs, and weaving webs with them. Our specific nope spider, though, is growing larger by the millenia, so its six frontmost feet are only used for supporting weight now. Eventually they will be completely flat and fingerless (yes, nopes spiders have fingers - actually microscopic claws, which is how they weave and cling to stuff). Only the last pair of legs will have fingers for weaving.

In the other question I linked to, Azuaron suggested that a giant nope spider-like creature would have to have its legs below the body and not splayed. I propose a midterm solution which is close to the anatomy of a real nope spider, so the legs should be fixed below the cephalothorax. The creature is supported by eight feet, and they don't have to be incredibly heavy for their size, so I think this setup works.

I estimate that, once the creature reaches its adult size, it should weight 60 kilograms (approximately 132 pounds), with its weight divided almost evenly among its eight feet (the hindermost feet would support a smaller fraction of their weight), so on average each foot would be supporting 7.5 kg / 15.5 pounds.

Such a nope would probably be warm-blooded, with all the adaptations required for that. It should eat at least as much as a human with the same weight.

As for the web output, I think it would be proportional to its body mass, relative to any regular species of web weaving spider.

  • $\begingroup$ I really like this answer, but since you are addressing evolution in such depth, it might be reasonable to assume such a spider would no longer weave webs. Larger animals tend to evolve better eyesight; so, nets would be more resource expensive and less effective the bigger the spider gets. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Jun 25 '19 at 18:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki I don't think so. We have very keen eyesight and we are better at catching fish with nets than with our bare hands ;) $\endgroup$ – Renan Jun 25 '19 at 19:10

Short answer: yes if gaint spider solves the problems with thermoregulation, breathing and feeding. There were large insects about meter size (and more) in Earth's old days, when atmosphere had more oxigen. (I know - spiders are not insects, but they both are crustaceans and have same body plan)

0) phisical stability - exoskeleton would be quite thick and heavy, wich would greatly reduce there agility and mobility. It means that no high order predators (like mammals) should exist in that ecosystem

1) Thermoregulation - thick exosceleton is a good insolator. Too good insolator. They should behave like snakes - warming up in the sun and cooling down in some wet shadows. They could not do extream activities (like chasing prey, or running from predator) for long, or they just cook themselfs with inner heat. So nothing like battle with this gaint spider can happen. It is more like "hide and seek" and "who ambush whom" game.

2) Breathing - the most limiting factor. The reason why insects on morden Earth are small is exectly this. Your planet should have a lot of oxigen in atmosphere - no less then 40-50% (or much higher pressure). And that implies a lot of "fun" in DwarfFortress sense. Like selfigniting mashineoil or easely igniting steel.

3)Feeding is also a problem, because spiders can't feed on solid meat. They need to "coock" sort of sup from it's victim and then suck it in. It means that beside this spiders there must be lots of gaint insects - there prey. They should be more then ten times more common than spiders. This gaint spider would be just a rare encounter in swarms of giant ants and gaint centipedes.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Spiders don't have to eat insects, giant ones you would expect to be able to eat animals etc. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jun 25 '19 at 13:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ First: insects are animals. Second: If you a talking about mammals or birds (or dinosaurs), then they would eat such spiders. Absenсe of high-order animals is one of conditions to such spiders to exist. $\endgroup$ – ksbes Jun 26 '19 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ based on what premise? It's entirely possible that the spiders could take the place of apex predators in this ecosystem or could be somewhere in the middle or anything else. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jun 26 '19 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ Becase this spiders would be inferior in any aspect to higher-order animals. Spiders would just loose in natural selection to any other same-sized (same niche) non-crustaceans animals. That is what high/low order division means. $\endgroup$ – ksbes Jun 28 '19 at 8:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ and yet none of the scientific literature uses those terms. Spiders are a highly effective and well optimized successful species found right across the planet and doing very well too. They are not less evolved than any other species, they're just differently evolved. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jun 28 '19 at 8:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.