That’s the name of University of Georgia Costa Rica campus’s resident trail attraction. Some people think tarantulas are the scariest creatures in the natural world, but Edith is practically guaranteed to be in the same spot every night. Naturalists on the campus in Monteverde, Costa Rica spotted the Mexican Red Knee tarantula an estimated seven years ago.
In a raised bank right near a gravel path on the Cecropia trail, she can be found in a small cave measuring about six inches wide at the opening and eight inches deep into the bank. When she isn’t perched on the edge waiting for bugs to crawl around her territory, she is deep inside her home and injecting said bugs with a deadly poison for her multi-course late night meal.
Her furry body is common amongst tarantulas found in many other parts of the world, but the orange-red stripes on her legs make her slightly more visible during the pitch black Costa Rican rainforest nights. As a nocturnal creature, she stays in her cave during the day and ventures out only at night to hunt.
The origin of Edith’s name is unknown, and it’s possible Edith has been a trail resident for more than seven years.
“I had this girl on the hike the other day who came here as a student in 2009 and she had seen her,” said resident naturalist Theodera Panayides. Since naturalists are rarely on campus for longer than a year, no one has been able to confirm the original sighting.
There has never been a question as to Edith’s gender, according Panayides. She says that females naturally live longer than males, possibly in part due to female tarantulas’ habit of eating their males after mating.
“It could be an adaptation whereby the male lets itself be eaten, in a way, because once you’ve made it with a female, if you’re in an environment where the chance of finding another female is low, your best bet at having your genes passed down is that that female that you just impregnated makes it alive,” Panavides says.
While these males rarely live past ten years, Edith and her fellow female tarantulas can live up to 25 years in the wild. Panayides said that she saw a little baby in the area the other day. “I don’t know if it was hers, but I imagine it must be. It was right outside her cave on the side.” Based on the red-kneed tarantula’s typical age of sexual maturity, it’s safe to say that Edith must be older than seven.
Allison Hellenga, one of three sustainability interns currently on campus, remembers seeing Edith while studying abroad during her undergraduate years at UGA.
“Edith is pretty cool. She’s been in her little hole-thing for, like, a couple of years. I think it’s amazing she’s stayed in a place for that long,” she said.
Hellenga was excited to see Edith again, but maintains that a second visit doesn’t make her any more keen towards tarantulas.
“I wouldn’t want to disturb her because I heard she just had babies, and I feel like she would be pretty protective right now and that freaks me out.”
The reaction of most guests is fairly consistent with Hellenga’s, according to Regan Fink, another resident naturalist and leader of guided night hikes.
“Everyone was pretty happy to see her. There’s a lot of people that get scared. It’s a good way to tackle their fears,” she said. “Luckily, none of them ever turn around and are like ‘I’m done'”.
Dangerous Or In Danger?
Though hikers aren’t in danger when encountering these spiders, Edith’s Mexican Red-Kneed relatives actually are. This particular species of tarantula is being depleted due to the pet trade and their habitats are being destroyed due to a demand for pet tarantulas.
Even though she seems tame in her home and is unlikely to bite a human, Panayides does not suggest making Edith the UGA Costa Rica class pet. Panavides says that people can grab them with their hands, but you can tell if a tarantula is angry when they stand on two legs and flick the hairs on their abdomen at you, which may cause a small skin rash.
Edith’s self-defense tactics seem to be working. Despite the presence of tarantula-eating wasps and other predators in Costa Rica’s diverse rainforests, a long life is in sight for UGA’s beloved eight-legged critter.
“The likelihood is that she’ll die in there, if nothing gets to her before that,” Panayides concluded. She and the other naturalists agree that her location, home, and survival tactics make her a winner and a friend of guests for years to come.