Silken Feet: A Tarantula Feat!

Tarantulas are best observed in THEIR home, not yours!

Mexican Flame Knee Tarantula
Mexican Flame Knee Tarantula
Eye invaded with urticating hairs
Eye invaded with urticating hairs

The World of Arachdids Fascinates.

On Friday, I published a small article on the Bombardier Beetle and its amazing defence system. Today's leggy protagonist, the Tarantula, reveals another incredible result of Evolution's constant tinkering to improve the everyday functions of its family of creatures.

As my regular readers will know, I spent many years living in the desert of South Baja California, Mexico. There, I encountered many arachnids, the Mexican Flame-Knee Tarantula the most unforgettable.

Little was I to know that it would be this gorgeous arachnid which would recently reveal another staggering fact to biologists: this tarantula - and many others of the species, including many from the whole spider family - can actually extrude silk from their feet!

Yes, worth reading again: not just from the well-known method, by means of their spinnerets, which is how web-building spiders make their unique insect traps and homes, but directly through their feet. In the case of the heavy-bodied tarantulas, which, unlike the lighter spiders, might be injured or even killed by a fall, the ability is more pronounced.

The study which has revealed this new and gripping secret from the world of spiders also brought to light that Tarantulas - archaic arachnids - have demonstrated that the two types of silk they produce are dissimilar in size, strength and stickiness; that from the feet being the finer and possessing more gripping power.

More modern spiders, in fact, produce several more distinct silks for varying uses.

These tests are said to be reported in the "Journal of Experimental Biology," a publication I hope to become associated with shortly.

In the experiments leading to the remarkable conclusions, tarantulas (Two Chilean Rose and the Flame Knee, ("Fluffy" a pet of Dr Rind, the investigator!) were put into a glass box. The box was then inverted and gently shaken, causing the spiders to slide down the sides. Minute examination of their unsteady route down to the "floor" again showed many fine lines of silk attached to the glass which could have only come from the creature’s feet. All arachnids have hairs on their feet and the silk may have passed through these hairs to become stuck onto the glass.

Examinations were also made of old skins of Fluffy's, shed during her moults as she grew, which may have produced some further evidence of the silk-making process. The investigation is still proceeding.

Many people keep pet taras and I have written other hubs about the arachnids. Basically, they can be divided into "Old World," and "New World" species, those from the old world the more venomous. (Asia, etc.). Yet those from the new world, (such as Mexico, etc.) have a greater capacity to "throw" urticating hairs which can blind in extreme cases and will cause irritation in lesser attacks.

One owner of a Chilean Rose Tarantula was cleaning her cage when she decided she was angry at him for some obscure reason (see notes). She shuffled up to within about 6 inches of his face; rubbed her forelegs together and released a fine mist of these tiny hairs which entered his eye nearest to the spider. After a short time, his eye began to itch severely and become bloodshot. He had some idea of what had happened and went to hospital.

There, eye doctors examining him with microscopes found many of the minute hairs sticking out of his eye, or, because of the barbs on them, working their way down into his eye! They could do nothing because some were unreachable without surgery and those they could still reach were too fine to be grasped with tweezers - even using the microscope. He was given medication and told they would hopefully dissolve after some time, which condemned him to some months of suffering. Not a thing you want to happen, it would be less worrying to be bitten. One can only speculate as to whether these hairs will eventually reach the brain!

Evolution doesn't just fashion its defences to scare-off predators; in many instances, they carry on to blind or even kill them, which serves to cut down on the danger.

Note: Although pet owners vigorously deny the charge, reptiles, arachnids and insects, etc., have no capacity for affection or any kind of sentiment like this. They may get used to their owners and even sit placidly on their hands or laps, but they don’t have love on their minds.

Of course, that may be enough for you: the illusion of love may suffice (look at prostitution!). But if your pet mamba, spider or scorpion has a bad scale day, watch out! You might learn the hard way that illusions can soon be dispelled.

On a more pragmatic note, if you do keep taras, always wear protective glasses when cleaning or playing with them: these hairs are really nasty and have actually blinded people...I recommend a mini-Schnauzer as a pet!



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Comments 27 comments

Sophia Angelique 5 years ago

Nice article, Bob! Coincidentally, I was writing some copy for a science client a few days ago and the pads of tarantuals' feet came up!

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Small web, er, world, Sophia. Did it mention the silk doozits where the creature fires the silk from? Bob

Sophia Angelique 5 years ago

No, I was writing copy for a company that sold microscopes and had to interview the science teacher who spoke about the pads on the tarantula feet! :)

A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

Fascinating. Their image is enough to ward me away. Thank you for sharing.

Suramya.K 5 years ago

I think I'm going to the restroom!!

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Tarantulas roam the Sonoran desert roads at night during mating season. Most drivers try to avoid running over them, but many are killed.

They seem to like porch lights, and seasoned desert dwellers are careful about opening their exterior doors at night so they don't put a hand on a tranantula or let one in!

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Will: Many arachnids and reptiles seem to like the retained heat in roads at night. Well, I suppose the scavengers are kept happy. Bob

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Sorry you feel they are repulsive AA Zavala and SuramyaK. I think they are exceptionally beautiful; just look at that coloring and the velvety skin! bob

chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

Tough crowd, these spiders. I like the reference to the illusion. Nice one.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks chspublish. Of course, I'm not so sure my analogy is accurate, most people going with prostitutes want sex not love; not that evolution would like us trying to seperate the two (or even acknowlege love!)...Bob

SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 5 years ago from Philippines

Here in the Philippines although not as organize as the kumo Gassen tournament in Japan are spider(gagamba) fights called "sabong sa kaka".It is a poor man's form of gambling where two spiders are place on a stick to fight it out. The game ends when one spider is bitten or incapacitated in the webings of it's opponent.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Interesting, I hope they don't plan on going anywhere decent in the afterlife...Bob

Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 5 years ago from Canada

as always an enjoyable read-- I admit I was a bit worried, I don't like spiders-- they can stay out- out!-- but this was great...


diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks Rebecca. No one much likes spiders in the house; apart from anything else, it's not great for the spiders either. But it is so easy to remove them gently and without harm, using a glass and a piece of paper...Thanks for visit

Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

Another very informative read but this time about creatures we love to fear. They are amazing creatures and I wonder why we learn to fear them so much. That might be something you could answer in another hub. Thank you Bob.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Yes, good idea. In brief, it's genetic scientists believe. They can harm us, like snakes, so we fear them without really knowing why. And archaic arachnids included some very large species, but before man arrived. When we were hunter-gatherers, we were much more closely thrown together with tarantulas and other, really poisonous, spiders, which is why the fear has survived. Bob

Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Dio, I would much prefer to observe tarantulas in their home and not mine. :-) I have long disliked arachnids, but must confess that I found this hub fascinating. Well done!

BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 5 years ago from New York

It is a very fascinating hub. I can see why many love to have them in containers in their homes, they are fun to observe, not that any creature should live in a fish tank, but I've seen some very pretty ones. Great hub.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Thanks Genna and Bobbi

In haste: Off with a hottie fr th wekend...Bob

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

How on earth can you love and have a tarantula as a pet? Anothe rpoint where I give up on humans. Apart from this you hub was very detailled and briliantly written. Gave so much information. Thankyou.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Hi Hanna. Read again. I have never had a tarantula as a pet and never would; all my arachnid hubs advise against owning spiders and reptiles.

Apart from that (heh) thanks for your visit...Bob

GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 5 years ago from Northern California

We had a Mexican Flame Knee for almost 18 years until she passed. You are so right about the hairs--I used to warn students about the hair flicking.Beautifully written Hub.

Diogenes 5 years ago

Hi GB: They are lovely: that seems a good age...Bob

moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

Enjoyed your hub did not know that a tarantula could shoot out fine hairs. We use to live in Calif. near a orange grove. The tarantulas lived in the orange grove and would come out during the evening and stick to side of our building. That was a sight to see.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Yes, that was almost certainly mating behavior. The ones in the Americas are the ones with the most urticating hairs, but they are nowhere near as venomous as those in Asia, etc., Thanks for visit...Bob

Shaddie profile image

Shaddie 4 years ago from Washington state

I worry about the hairs way more than I worry about the bite. When dumping out my terrestrial T cages for cleaning, I always wear protective goggles so that the shed hairs don't float up into my eyes.

diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico Author

Good idea, Shaddie. They can be inhaled, too, and land with all the other junk we accumulate in our lungs during our lifetime.


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