A massive shipment of tarantulas is on its way to New Zealand.

Wellington Zoo is importing 107 of the insect-eating spiders, which can grow from the size of a palm to as big as a dinner plate, for distribution in zoos nationwide next week.

Its collections development manager Simon Eyre told Radio New Zealand the shipment was aimed at establishing a self-sustaining population of tarantulas in New Zealand.

"There will be breeding groups scattered around the country so we can go a number of generations without inbreeding."

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The last shipment of tarantulas imported into New Zealand was dominated by males, which do not live as long as females of the species, Mr Eyre said.

He said most of the male spiders had since died, leaving New Zealand with very few breeding pairs.

Most of the spiders being imported were "pretty much" harmless, with venom similar to that of a bee sting, he said.

"The eat small insects like crickets. They don't eat people and mice and things. It's a very... Hollywood thing. It's not going to be anything like tarantulas on a plane."

Mr Eyre said the tarantulas would not survive outside the zoos in New Zealand as they needed to be kept in temperatures of more than 20 degrees Celsius year-round.