"They look like they're all legs ... They live in webs, right, so they're spindly, relatively delicate spiders," said Jonathan Coddington, an arachnologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, one of the scientists who identified the new species.
"If you were standing there, you wouldn't say that. You would probably freak out. Most people do."
Like other giant golden orb weavers in its family, N. komaci spins a web that is equally impressive in size, measuring more than a metre in diameter.
"The webs are so strong that you bounce off," Coddington said Tuesday. "It's not a diaphanous experience."
He said the researchers aren't sure why the females grow so big (at one-fifth their size, the male of the species is positively puny). But he suggested that the bigger the spider, the more eggs it can lay in its lifetime, so size may confer an evolutionary advantage.
"They've probably outgrown most of their predators," Coddington said. Hummingbirds, which are known for plucking spiders off their webs while on the wing, "are too small to nail these guys. Bats could, too, but bats couldn't take something like this."
In fact, with this behemoth of a spider, the traditional hunter has become the hunted, as it were. N. komaci would have no problem chowing down on any bird, bat or lizard unfortunate enough to get ensnared in its web, although its usual diet would run more to flies, bees and grasshoppers, he said.