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Venomous, Face-Sized Tarantula Discovered in Northern Sri Lanka

Update Date: Apr 05, 2013 07:22 PM EDT

A tarantula as big as a human face has been discovered in northern Sri Lanka.

The newly discovered Poecilotheria rajaei species has a leg span of eight inches and has enough venom to kill snakes and small birds.

Scientists have been tirelessly searching for the giant, plate-sized arachnid covered in markings of gray, pink and yellow after it was first revealed by residents of the Sri Lankan Mankulam region in 2009.

Even though the new specimen closely resembled other tarantulas, which all have eight legs, eight eyes and two fangs, scientists realized that the super spider was unlike any tarantula they have ever seen.  Researchers set out to find more living specimens to learn about the species.

The tarantulas possess daffodil-yellow markings on their legs and a pink band around their stomachs.

"It can be quite attractive, unless spiders freak you out," Peter Kirk, editor of the British Tarantula Society journal, told the New York Daily News.  Even the researchers studying the tarantulas admit to being shocked by the size of the spiders.

"It was slightly smaller than the size of the plate we have dinner on," said Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka's Biodiversity Education and Research, according to the New York Daily News.

"They are quite rare," Nanayakkara told Wired. "They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled, and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings."

"They can leave people quite startled on first glance, but they are not fatal to humans. They can bite you and it will be very painful, there may be some swelling or some other reactions, but as far as I know a human has never died from a tarantula bite," Kirk said, according to Wired.

Researchers said that the giant tarantula terrifies villagers, and residents in the Mankulam region still kill them on sight, dwindling their species numbers even more.

"Sri Lankans are absolutely horrified by them and think believe they are extremely deadly - they will even kill them on sight," he said, according to The Telegraph.

Because of the 25-year-long Sri Lanka civil war, researchers have only now been able to identify the new species.

"It's always exciting when you find a new species, and it's quite common to uncover new tarantulas in areas that have previously been torn apart by war," Kirk said.

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