Class: Arachnida (Arachnids)
Theraphosidae (most of the commonly known tarantulas are in this family)
Genera: at least 100 described
Species: over 1,400
Leg span: largest —male Goliath bird-eating spider Theraphosa blondi, with a leg span of 11 inches (28 centimeters)
Weight: 1 to 3 ounces (28 to 100 grams)
Life span: females can live 25 years in managed care; males typically live 5 to 7 years
Incubation: 6 to 9 weeks, depending on species
Number of eggs laid: 75 to 1,000
Age of maturity: 3 to 9 years
Conservation status: Several species are officially listed as threatened due to overcollecting for the pet trade.
• Like other spiders, the tarantula makes a silken web, but not for
snaring prey. They use their web to make a home, a molting “mat,” or
to aid in handling food items. They rely on ambush and pursuit to catch
• Some people consider the Goliath bird-eating spider to be a tasty morsel when wrapped in a banana leaf and roasted over a fire.
• Adult tarantulas will stop feeding for several days to as long as several months before molting.
Insects & Spiders: Tarantula
They're big, they're hairy, but are they scary? Not when you get to know them! Tarantulas are the biggest spiders in the world. They are also known as baboon spiders in Africa and hairy spiders in South America. But don't be alarmed! Most tarantulas are busy minding their own business. If you don't bother them, they won't bother you.
Like all spiders, tarantulas have two body segments—a cephalothorax (seff-a-la-THOR-ax) and abdomen—and very strong jaws with venomous fangs. Their legs (all eight of them!) are covered with tiny hairs. Many tarantula species use their legs to flick special hairs, called urticating hairs, off their abdomens when disturbed. These hairs are barbed and lodge in the eyes and mucous membranes of would-be attackers, causing great discomfort and irritation. Tarantulas from Asia and Africa do not have urticating hairs, so they have use more aggressive posturing when threatened.
All tarantulas have a hard exoskeleton that they must shed during each growth spurt. When the time comes, the tarantula lays down a silken mat with its spinnerets and flips over onto its back. The “old” exoskeleton opens on the back, and the tarantula must push it off by expanding and contracting its body. When the process is complete and the spider has allowed some time for the new exoskeleton to harden, it flips back over. At first glance, the shed often looks like another spider!
Location, location, location
Tarantulas live in warm areas around the world, but most are found in South America. Some tarantulas live in underground burrows in well-drained soil. If the soil is suitable, the spider digs a deep burrow and lines it with silk webbing; this helps keep sand and dirt from trickling in. Some tarantulas live on the ground under rocks or logs or the shed bark of trees, and others live in webbed burrows in trees. These large spiders are solitary creatures, so there is only one spider per "house."
Preparing dinner with just one bite
The tarantula is a nocturnal hunter, preying on a variety of insects, other spiders, and small lizards, snakes, and frogs. Tarantulas kill their prey with a bite from their fangs. The fangs release venom that kills their victim and a chemical in the venom helps dissolve the victim's flesh. Tarantulas can also crush their prey using their powerful mouthparts. Though people are often afraid of tarantula bites, the reality is that most have venom with potency comparable to that of a bee. And remember, a tarantula would rather hide from you than bite you.
Willing to die for love
Young tarantulas will molt several times over the first few years as
they get bigger. Once mature, the males abandon their burrows and go
out to seek a female by following the scent she leaves. The pair will
perform a courtship dance and then, if he's lucky, they mate. However,
female tarantulas seem to be a finicky lot and the object of his love
may decide she'd rather eat him than breed with him! Lucky males usually
die a few months after mating, but females may live and produce eggs
for 25 years or more.
The female makes a silk cocoon in her home for her eggs. Once the eggs are laid (from 75 to 1,000!), she seals up the cocoon with silk and then stands guard for six to nine weeks until the young hatch. They will go off on their own when they are two to three weeks old.
A tarantula's enemy
Although spiders are fearsome predators, others often eat them. Tarantulas have many natural enemies, including lizards, snakes, spider-eating birds, and even wasps. A female tarantula hawk (a large, solitary wasp) will find a tarantula, sting it, and then drag its stunned body to a special burrow that she has prepared. Once inside the burrow, she lays a single egg on the body of the living spider. When the larva hatches, it eats the tarantula!