- Education and Science»
- Life Sciences»
- Spiders & Arachnids
The Taratula Spider - Interesting Facts and Information
The tarantula spider is the largest of the spider family and watching one will send chills up most peoples spines. Although they are large, hairy and rather creepy to most people, most tarantula spiders are the least aggressive members of the spider family. However, if you are like me, coming upon a tarantula will cause me to do my “spider dance”. You know the one, where you are jumping up and down and flailing your hands and screaming like a little girl! Learn some interesting facts about the tarantula spider and perhaps the next time you come across one, you won’t hurt yourself trying to run away!
There are approximately 900 species of tarantulas, which belong to the Theraphosidae family of arachnids. Various species of tarantula can be found in western and southern parts of the US as well as in Central and South America, Africa, Asia Australia and several countries in Europe. The name, “tarantula” actually originated from a southern town in Italy called Taranto and was used to describe most any large, ground dwelling spider.However, now the name "Tarantula" is given to this one particular family of spiders.
Golaith Birdeater Tarantula
Range in Size
Tarantulas can range in size from the smallest, the Aphonopelma mojaviensis, sometimes call the zebra spider due to the stripes on its legs, being about the size of a fingernail or approximately 5/8 of an inch, to the largest, the Goliath bird eater, which can have a leg span of up to 12 inches and be the size of a dinner plate. Leg span is measured by starting at the tip of the back leg and measuring to the tip of the front leg on the opposite side, just in case you ever decide you want to measure one!
Bald Abdomen of Tarantula
Tarantulas Lines of Defense
Tarantulas are really quite docile and will bite only when they feel they are in extreme danger. The bite of a tarantula varies by species, but the tarantulas found in North and South America, is about the same as a bee sting in terms of toxicity. When threatened, tarantulas first line of defense is to raise their front legs and extend their fangs, hoping this will scare the predator away. If this isn’t enough, their second line of defense is to then “slap” the predator with their fore legs and some tarantulas can make a “hissing” sound.
For the tarantulas found in North and South America, their next line of defense is actually “throwing” barbed bristles at their attacker. They use their hind legs to scrape these bristles off their abdomen and will “fling” them in the direction of the threat. These bristles can cause an irritation and rash in humans.
If none of these intimidation strategies work to scare away the predator, they may turn and bite. Many times they will do what is called a “dry” bite, meaning they do not pump venom into the wound. Even when using their venom, the bite is not seriously toxic to humans and there has never been a death from a tarantula bite documented.
What Tarantulas Call Home
Depending on the species, some tarantulas live in trees while others live underground. The arboreal species, which mainly reside in Asia and parts of Europe, will spin a silk tube tent for a home. The terrestrial species, mainly found in the US and South America, will dig a burrow underground. They still use their "silk" but instead of using it to capture prey as most spider do, they use their silk to stabilize their burrows using a silk wall. This also helps them by giving them something to cling to when climbing in and out of their burrow.
Hunting and Prey
Most tarantulas don’t “sit and wait” for their prey as most spiders are known to do, but actually go out hunting for their food. They eat mainly insects and other arthropods, which they will "pounce" on, the bite and paralyze with their venom. The largest of the tarantula spiders, the Goliath Bird Eater, is an ambush type of tarantula. They will "lay down" a trip wire of silk that lets them know what prey is just outside their burrow. Once the tarantula feels the vibration from the trip wire, they strike! The Goliath tarantula can take down larger animals, such as small birds, lizards, mice and small snakes. Watch the video below to see one in action...if you dare!
Claws, Jaws and Sight
Tarantulas, as all spiders, have eight legs. However the tarantula spider has either two or three small retractable claws at the end of each one. These claws are used to help the tarantula climb smooth surfaces, such as my glass storm door!
They have two chelicerae which are commonly called “jaws”, with fangs. These are hollow and contain venom glands. Tarantulas are not aggressive towards humans and rarely bite. The bite may be a bit painful, but as mention above, not very toxic.
Although tarantulas do use their eight eyes, they are not able to see much more than light and motion. They use touch and vibrations to find their prey, using hairs or spines which are actually very sensitive sensory organs called setae.
Mother Tarantula Moving her Babies
Eggs and Young
Female tarantulas can have from 50 to 2000 eggs, depending on the species. The female will guard her silken egg sac for 6 to 8 weeks while waiting for them to hatch. During this time, she will turn the eggs sac often to keep the eggs from becoming deformed from sitting in the same position for too long. The baby tarantulas will stay in the nest for some time after hatching, feeding off the yolk sac before actually going out and hunting on their own.
If the female feels her young are threatened or her nest location compromised, she will load her young on her back and move them to another location. I took this picture one afternoon when hubby spotted this female moving her young. I don’t really like spiders and this really “creeped me out”! It was about all I could do to get close enough to take this picture. Thank God for zoom lenses!
Predators and Life Span
Predators of the tarantula spider vary by species but most are eaten by large predatory birds such as owls and hawks. Weasels, skunks and snakes will also make a meal of the small to medium sized tarantula. One of the main predators of the tarantula spider is the Spider wasp. The female wasp will sting the spider, paralyzing it. She will then keep the paralyzed spider in her burrow. Once her babies hatch they will begin to eat on the paralyzed spider. Man is also a predator of the tarantula as in some countries, tarantulas are fried and eaten as a delicacy. All I can say about this is, “ain’t no way”!
Female tarantulas can live for 30 years or longer in the wild and over 20 years in captivity, where males only live 5 to 10 years either way.