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2.5 to 5 inches (6.4 to 12.7 cm)
Length
4 to 11 inches (10 to 28 centimeters)
Leg Span
0.5 - 6 oz (14 g to 170 g)
Weight

About

#Arachnid

The Tarantula is a fascinating group of arachnids known for their impressive size and unique features. They belong to the class Arachnida within the Animal Kingdom, which encompasses arthropods such as spiders, scorpions, ticks, and mites. Tarantulas are a diverse group, with over 1,000 recognized species found in different parts of the world.

Physically, tarantulas are characterized by their large, robust bodies covered in bristly hairs. These hairs serve various purposes, including sensory functions and defense mechanisms. Tarantulas are renowned for their size, with some species boasting leg spans of up to 11 inches (28 cm) or more, making them among the largest spiders on Earth.

One distinctive feature of tarantulas is their impressive fangs, capable of delivering venom to subdue prey. While tarantula venom is primarily used for hunting and defense, it is generally not dangerous to humans, with most species having venom comparable to a bee or wasp sting.

Tarantulas are solitary creatures that lead a primarily nocturnal lifestyle, emerging from their burrows or hiding spots at night to hunt for prey. They are opportunistic predators, feeding on a wide range of prey, including insects, small vertebrates, and even other spiders.

These arachnids are known for their unique mating rituals, which can be complex and involve courtship dances and drumming. Female tarantulas are known for their longevity, often outliving males, and some species can live for several decades.

Tarantulas are a subject of fascination for arachnid enthusiasts and have gained popularity as exotic pets in some regions. Their impressive appearance, intriguing behaviors, and role in ecosystems as predators make them a captivating and diverse group within the Animal Kingdom.

Threatened:
Extinct
Critically Endangered
Endangered
Vulnerable
Near Threatened
Least Concern

Physical Characteristics

Tarantulas are a group of large and often hairy spiders belonging to the family Theraphosidae. Known for their sizeable, robust bodies and thick, hairy legs, tarantulas are found in a variety of environments around the world, from tropical rainforests to arid deserts. Despite their fearsome appearance and reputation, tarantulas are generally harmless to humans, with bites that are usually no more severe than a bee sting. Here’s an overview of the physical characteristics common to many tarantula species:

Size

  • Body Length: Tarantulas can vary widely in size, depending on the species. They typically range from 2.5 to 4.5 inches (6.35 to 11.43 centimeters) in body length, with some species, like the Goliath Birdeater (Theraphosa blondi), reaching body lengths of up to 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) or more.
  • Leg Span: The leg span of tarantulas is a prominent feature, often reaching 4 to 11 inches (10 to 28 centimeters) across, with the Goliath Birdeater having a leg span of up to 11 inches (28 centimeters).
  • Weight: Tarantulas can weigh from 1 ounce (28 grams) to about 6 ounces (170 grams), with the Goliath Birdeater being one of the heaviest, weighing up to 6 ounces (170 grams).

Physical Characteristics

  • Body Structure: Tarantulas have two main body parts: the cephalothorax (prosoma) and the abdomen (opisthosoma). The cephalothorax houses the eyes, mouthparts, and legs, while the abdomen contains the reproductive organs, lungs, and spinnerets.
  • Exoskeleton: Like all spiders, tarantulas have an exoskeleton that provides structural support and protection. They undergo molting, shedding their exoskeleton to grow and sometimes to recover from injuries.
  • Fur: Tarantulas are known for their hairy bodies and legs. These hairs serve various purposes, including sensation, defense (urticating hairs that can be released when threatened), and camouflage.
  • Fangs and Venom: Tarantulas have large fangs that they use to inject venom into their prey. The venom is primarily used for subduing prey, and while it can cause discomfort, it is generally not dangerous to humans.
  • Eyes: Tarantulas have eight eyes arranged in two rows on the front of their cephalothorax. Despite having multiple eyes, their vision is not their primary sense, and they rely more on vibrations and touch to navigate and detect prey.
  • Legs: They have eight legs, each ending in two or three retractable claws, similar to those of a cat, which help them grip surfaces and climb.

Behavior and Adaptations

  • Habitat: Tarantulas are adaptable and can live in a variety of habitats, including rainforests, deserts, and mountainous regions. They typically reside in burrows underground or in natural crevices.
  • Diet: They are primarily nocturnal hunters, feeding on insects, other spiders, and small vertebrates. Larger species can even prey on small mammals, reptiles, and birds.
  • Defense Mechanisms: In addition to their urticating hairs, tarantulas can also assume a threatening posture to deter predators. If necessary, they can bite, though they often prefer to flee or hide.

Tarantulas’ unique physical characteristics, from their significant size and hairy bodies to their fascinating behaviors, make them a subject of interest and admiration among enthusiasts and researchers alike. Their presence in various ecosystems highlights their adaptability and the important role they play in natural pest control.

Reproduction

The reproductive cycle of tarantulas, characterized by their large size and hairy bodies, involves several key stages:

Maturity and Courtship: Tarantulas reach sexual maturity at different ages depending on the species and environmental conditions. Once mature, males embark on a quest to find a mate. During courtship, male tarantulas perform elaborate rituals to attract females, which may involve tapping, drumming, and vibrating their abdomens.

Mate Location and Communication: Male tarantulas use pheromones to locate receptive females, often following scent trails to find potential mates. Upon encountering a female, the male continues his courtship display, tapping and vibrating to communicate his intentions and assess the female’s receptivity.

Courtship Dance: The courtship dance of tarantulas is a complex and sometimes risky display. The male approaches the female cautiously, using his pedipalps (modified appendages near the mouth) to transfer sperm to specialized structures known as spermathecae in the female’s abdomen.

Copulation: If the female accepts the male’s advances, copulation occurs. The male carefully maneuvers into position to transfer his sperm, being mindful of the female’s potentially aggressive behavior. Copulation can last for several hours, during which time the male must remain vigilant to avoid becoming a meal for the female.

Egg Production and Egg Sac Construction: After mating, the female tarantula begins producing eggs, which she fertilizes using the stored sperm from the male. Once the eggs are fertilized, the female constructs a silk egg sac, where she deposits the eggs for protection and incubation.

Incubation Period: The eggs incubate within the silk egg sac, which the female guards vigilantly. The duration of the incubation period varies depending on factors such as temperature and humidity, but typically ranges from several weeks to several months.

Hatching and Offspring Care: When the eggs are ready to hatch, the female carefully tears open the egg sac to release the spiderlings. Newly hatched tarantulas are miniature versions of adults and must fend for themselves from birth. The mother may provide some initial protection and guidance, but spiderlings quickly disperse to begin their independent lives.

Dispersal and Growth: As spiderlings grow, they undergo a series of molts, shedding their exoskeletons to accommodate their increasing size. Tarantulas may take several years to reach full maturity, with males generally maturing faster than females. Once mature, tarantulas may live for several more years, depending on the species and environmental conditions.

Understanding the reproductive cycle of tarantulas is crucial for their conservation and management, as it provides insights into population dynamics, breeding success, and the factors influencing their reproductive success in various habitats. Conservation efforts aimed at protecting tarantula habitats, minimizing habitat destruction, and mitigating threats such as habitat loss and climate change can help ensure the long-term survival of these fascinating arachnids.

Lifespan

Tarantulas have varying lifespans depending on their species and environmental factors. Here’s an overview of their lifespans:

  1. In the Wild:
    • Tarantulas in the wild typically have a lifespan ranging from 5 to 10 years on average.
    • Factors such as species, climate, habitat, and availability of prey can influence their lifespan.
    • In some cases, female tarantulas tend to live longer than males.
  2. In Captivity:
    • Tarantulas kept in captivity often have longer lifespans compared to their wild counterparts.
    • Some species can live for 15 to 25 years or even longer when well cared for.
    • Proper housing, temperature, humidity, and a consistent food supply contribute to their longevity in captivity.
  3. Biggest Threats:
    • Predators: Tarantula spiderlings are vulnerable to a range of predators, including birds, mammals, and other arthropods.
    • Parasites: Tarantulas can be susceptible to various parasites, including mites and nematodes.
    • Habitat Destruction: Deforestation and habitat loss threaten tarantulas by reducing their natural habitats.
    • Collection for the Pet Trade: Over-collection for the pet trade can deplete wild populations of tarantulas, especially in certain regions.
    • Climate Change: Altered weather patterns and environmental conditions can impact tarantulas and their prey.

Conservation efforts are important to protect tarantulas and their habitats, especially in regions where they face threats. Responsible pet ownership and breeding programs can also help reduce the impact of the pet trade on wild populations.

Eating Habits

Tarantulas are carnivorous spiders with specific eating habits. Here’s an overview of their feeding behavior:

Diet:

  • Tarantulas primarily feed on insects, other arthropods, and occasionally small vertebrates like frogs, mice, or birds, depending on their size and species.
  • Some larger tarantula species are known to consume larger prey.

Hunting and Feeding:

  1. Ambush Predators: Tarantulas are typically ambush predators. They wait in their burrows or hide in concealed locations, relying on their excellent vibration-detection abilities to sense nearby prey.
  2. Silk Lining: Many tarantulas line their burrows or create silk tripwires leading to their hideouts. When prey approaches and disturbs these silk threads, the tarantula can detect the vibrations and quickly strike.
  3. Venomous Bite: Tarantulas have fangs (chelicerae) that can deliver venomous bites to immobilize or kill their prey. The venom also helps digest the prey’s tissues, turning them into a liquid that the tarantula can ingest.
  4. External Digestion: After subduing their prey with a bite, tarantulas often inject digestive enzymes into the victim’s body to start the external digestion process. The enzymes break down the prey’s tissues, allowing the tarantula to suck up the liquefied nutrients.
  5. Feeding Process: Tarantulas use their fangs to puncture the prey’s exoskeleton and inject venom and digestive enzymes. They then suck out the liquefied content, leaving behind the indigestible parts (such as exoskeletons) in a small pile.

Frequency of Feeding:

  • Tarantulas don’t need to eat frequently. Depending on factors like species, age, and environmental conditions, they may feed anywhere from once a week to once a month.
  • Larger tarantulas typically require larger prey and may feed less frequently.

Water Intake:

  • Tarantulas obtain moisture from their prey and also drink water droplets from their surroundings when necessary.

It’s essential for tarantula owners to provide an appropriate diet and feeding schedule based on their pet’s species and size. Feeding captive tarantulas a variety of insects like crickets, mealworms, and roaches can help ensure they receive adequate nutrition.

Uniqueness

Tarantulas are unique creatures in the arachnid world due to several distinctive characteristics and behaviors:

  1. Size and Variability: Tarantulas exhibit a wide range of sizes, from small species with a few inches in leg span to giants with leg spans exceeding 10 inches (25 cm). This variability in size and appearance makes them intriguing to enthusiasts.
  2. Venom and Fangs: Tarantulas possess venomous fangs capable of delivering painful bites. While their venom is not usually life-threatening to humans, it serves as a crucial tool for immobilizing prey and aiding digestion.
  3. Hair-Covered Bodies: Many tarantula species have fine, hair-like structures called setae covering their bodies. These setae serve various functions, from sensory perception to defense. Some species can flick these urticating hairs at potential threats, causing irritation to the skin and eyes of predators.
  4. Color and Pattern Diversity: Tarantulas come in a stunning array of colors and patterns, making them visually captivating. Some are brightly colored, while others have intricate markings that help them blend into their environments.
  5. Lifestyle Diversity: Tarantulas exhibit diverse lifestyles. Some are burrowing species that create intricate underground dens, while others are arboreal, dwelling in trees and plants. This adaptability allows them to occupy a range of habitats.
  6. Long Lifespans: Tarantulas are known for their relatively long lifespans among arachnids. Some species can live for several decades, with females often outliving males.
  7. Molting: Tarantulas undergo molting, shedding their exoskeletons to grow. During this process, they emerge with a new, soft exoskeleton that gradually hardens. Molting is a vulnerable period for tarantulas, and they may become lethargic and refuse food until their new exoskeleton hardens.
  8. Parental Care: Some tarantula species exhibit remarkable parental care. Female tarantulas may guard their eggs and young spiderlings, ensuring their safety until they are mature enough to fend for themselves.
  9. Nocturnal Predators: Most tarantulas are nocturnal, actively hunting for prey during the night. They rely on excellent nocturnal vision and sensitive hairs on their legs to locate and capture food.
  10. Captive Popularity: Tarantulas are popular pets among arachnid enthusiasts. Their low maintenance requirements and unique appearances make them sought-after additions to exotic pet collections.
  11. Conservation Significance: Some tarantula species are considered threatened due to habitat loss and collection for the pet trade. Conservation efforts aim to protect these unique arachnids and their ecosystems.

Overall, tarantulas are intriguing creatures that combine diverse characteristics and behaviors, making them stand out in the world of arachnids.

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FAQ’s

1. How many types of Tarantulas are there?

There are approximately 1,000 recognized species of tarantulas. These spiders belong to the family Theraphosidae and are found in a wide range of environments across the world, particularly in tropical, subtropical, and arid regions.

Tarantulas are known for their large size, hairy bodies, and their varied and often striking coloration. They exhibit a range of behaviors and lifestyles, with some species living in burrows, others in trees, and some that are opportunistic in terms of habitat. Despite their fearsome appearance and reputation, most tarantulas are not harmful to humans, and their venom is potent primarily for their small prey.

2. What are some of the most popular Tarantula species?

Tarantulas are among the most popular and recognizable spiders, revered by enthusiasts for their majestic appearance and diverse species. Here are 10 of the more popular tarantula species, each with its own unique characteristics:

  1. Grammostola rosea (Chilean Rose Tarantula): Known for its docile nature and striking rose-hued hair, a favorite among beginners for its easy care and gentle temperament.
  2. Brachypelma smithi (Mexican Red-knee Tarantula): Famous for its vibrant red knees contrasting against a black body, it’s a hardy and long-lived species, popular in the pet trade.
  3. Poecilotheria metallica (Gooty Sapphire Ornamental): Renowned for its stunning metallic blue color, this arboreal species is a prized but more challenging tarantula for experienced keepers.
  4. Theraphosa blondi (Goliath Birdeater): One of the largest tarantulas, known for its massive size and formidable appearance, native to the rainforests of South America.
  5. Avicularia avicularia (Pinktoe Tarantula): Noted for its arboreal lifestyle and striking coloration, with pinkish tips on its legs, a favorite for its docile nature.
  6. Caribena versicolor (Antilles Pinktoe Tarantula): Admired for its dramatic color changes from spiderling to adult, showcasing vibrant blues, greens, and purples throughout its life.
  7. Brachypelma hamorii (Mexican Redleg Tarantula): A visually striking species with deep red legs and a calm demeanor, making it a popular choice for tarantula enthusiasts.
  8. Aphonopelma chalcodes (Arizona Blonde Tarantula): Known for its gentle nature and attractive golden-brown coloration, often found in the deserts of Southwestern U.S.
  9. Hapalopus sp. Colombia (Pumpkin Patch Tarantula): Small in size but eye-catching with its bright orange and yellow markings, popular for its unique appearance and smaller space requirements.
  10. Lasiodora parahybana (Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater): Famous for its rapid growth rate and large size, adorned with salmon-pink hairs, it’s a remarkable species for more experienced keepers.

3. Are tarantulas poisonous?

Tarantulas are venomous, not poisonous. The distinction is that venomous creatures inject venom into their prey or in defense through a bite or sting, while poisonous creatures are harmful to touch or ingest. Tarantulas possess venom glands and can inject venom through their fangs.

However, the venom of most tarantula species is relatively weak compared to that of other spiders and is primarily used to subdue their prey, usually small insects and other arthropods. For humans, a tarantula bite is typically comparable to a bee sting in terms of pain and effects, causing localized pain, swelling, and redness, but it is usually not life-threatening.

That said, individual reactions to tarantula venom can vary, and some people may experience more severe symptoms, especially if they are allergic to the venom. Additionally, a few tarantula species have more potent venom that can cause more significant discomfort. It’s also worth noting that tarantulas have barbed hairs on their abdomens that they can release when threatened, and these hairs can cause irritation and allergic reactions if they come into contact with skin or mucous membranes.

In general, while tarantulas are venomous, they are not considered a significant danger to humans, and they tend to be docile, often preferring to retreat or use threat displays rather than bite.

4. Is the Tarantula dangerous?

Tarantulas are generally not considered dangerous to humans. While they are venomous, their venom is primarily adapted for subduing small prey such as insects and is not usually potent enough to cause serious harm to humans. The effects of a tarantula bite might include localized pain, redness, and swelling, similar to a bee sting, but severe complications are rare.

Additionally, tarantulas are known for their docile nature. They prefer to avoid confrontation and will typically only bite in self-defense if they feel threatened or provoked. Some species might display a threat posture or even release urticating hairs from their abdomen as a defense mechanism before resorting to biting. These hairs can cause irritation and discomfort if they come into contact with skin or eyes.

While tarantulas are not aggressive and generally not dangerous, it’s always wise to respect their space and handle them (if at all) with care and proper knowledge of their behavior. People with specific allergies or sensitivities might have more pronounced reactions to bites or hairs, so caution is advised for anyone handling or in the vicinity of these spiders.

Sources
  • Britannica, Tarantula, https://www.britannica.com/animal/tarantula, retrieved January 2024.
  • Burnie, David & Wilson, Don, Animal, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
  • Hickman et al, Integrated Principle of Zoology, McGraw Hill, Boston.