When scientist Piotr Naskrecki encountered a puppy-sized spider in Guyana, his photos of the giant arachnid quickly became an Internet sensation.

While the huge spider generated massive buzz, however, the Harvard researcher has come in for a firestorm of criticism for killing the creature and bringing it back to a museum. In a blog post Naskrecki explained that he was in Guyana to collect specimens for the Center for the Study of Biological Diversity at the University of Guyana.

Posts on Naskrecki’s Facebook page have accused the scientist of cruelty and Bloomberg Businessweek reports that he has even received a death threat via email. 

Responding to the criticism in a blog post post entitled “Involuntary Bioslaughter and Why a Spider is Dead” Naskrecki explained his actions.

“Collecting and preservation of physical specimens is an integral, irreplaceable element of biological sciences,” he wrote. “There is hardly a branch of biology that does not rely on the examination of organisms’ bodies (the only exception I can think of is ethology, and only some variants of it), be it for the purpose of their identification, understanding of the functions of their respiratory system, or the speed of transmission of neural signals.”

The South American Goliath birdeater, also known by its Latin name of Theraphosa blondi, is the world’s largest spider, and can weigh more than 6 oz.

“Theraphosa blondi is indeed the largest spider in the world (although its legs are not foot long, as some media reported), and thus it makes a perfect specimen for teaching spider morphology,” he added. “It is also a very common species, not protected or endangered, and collecting of a single individual poses absolutely no threat to its survival.”

In his blog post, Naskrecki noted that the animal was "properly euthanized and preserved," adding that it was then "carefully labelled and deposited in the collection in Guyana where to this day it serves as an important teaching tool."

Emphasizing the scientific role of animal specimen collections, Naskrecki pointed to the studies of bird egg shells that led to the eventual ban on the use of the insecticide DDT.

While the scientist has come in for criticism, numerous posters have leapt to his defense on his Facebook page.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers