These tarantula facts will discuss why these eight-legged creatures rule the world of spiders. Renowned for their large size and distinctive hairy bodies, these powerful spiders stand out among the crowd.
Some of the most remarkable tarantula facts include their harmless disposition and long lifespan. Tarantulas defy the short lifespans of other insects, living for several decades. Additionally, they don't pose any significant threat to humans.
13 Shocking Tarantula Facts
1. There are more than 800 species of tarantula.
These hairy large spiders belong to the Theraphosidae family, with over 900 known species. Tarantulas come in different sizes. The world's largest spider is the Goliath Birdeater (Theraphosa blondi). It is native to the rainforests of South America, particularly in the Amazon basin.
Adult female Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula can have a leg span of up to 30 centimeters (11 inches) and weigh over 100 grams (3.5 ounces). Whereas cuteness is subjective, we have also featured these furry arachnids in our list of cute bugs.
There are several small tarantula species, but one of the smallest is the South American Pink-toed Tarantula (Avicularia avicularia). Adult Pink-toed Tarantulas have a leg span of around 10 centimeters (4 inches) and are impressive creatures.
Additionally, their lifespans vary, with females generally living longer.
2. The name of tarantulas originated in Italy.
Next on our tarantula facts list: The name "tarantula" traces its origins back to the city of Taranto, located in southern Italy. The term originated in the 14th century when a peculiar dancing and sweating illness called "tarantism" spread in the region. The citizens believed that the cause of this condition was a bite from a venomous wolf spider (Lycosa tarantula), commonly called the "tarantula."
Although the spider responsible for tarantism was not a tarantula species, the name became associated with giant spiders with hairy legs over time. Today, the name "tarantula" describes this diverse group of spiders.
On the other hand, the Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula, the biggest spider, did not get the name because they exclusively feed on birds. Thanks to their impressive size, it merely hints at their ability to take down various creatures, including birds.
3. Tarantulas are gentle giants.
Contrary to their reputation, these spiders from the Tarantula family are generally peaceful and prefer to flee than fight. Most tarantulas rarely bite, and their venom is not dangerous to humans, comparable to a wasp or bee sting. However, the venom may trigger allergic reactions in certain people.
Despite their gentle nature, they are among the most fearsome predators. If threatened, they may raise their front legs or flick irritating hairs as a defense. The Goliath Birdeater, for example, can rub its eight legs together to produce a hissing sound as a warning.
Moreover, the tarantula can throw its urticating hairs at predators like the Tarantula Hawk Wasp to distract and harm them. Most New World tarantulas have these hairs attached to their legs.
4. Tarantulas live in many places.
Another interesting tarantula fact is that tarantulas prefer to live in forests, grasslands, deserts, savannas, mountains, and even coastal areas. Furthermore, most North American tarantulas dwell on the ground, but some species inhabit trees, cliffs, caves, or crops like bananas and pineapples.
They create burrows in arid regions such as the Southwestern United States, Mexico, Africa, and Asia. Tarantulas have also established themselves in Australia, including tree-dwelling species that inhabit forests, showcasing their adaptability to different habitats.
5. Their diet varies.
Tarantulas do not just eat insects. They are versatile hunters; sometimes, larger tarantulas catch small reptiles, lizards, and birds. As ambush predators, they employ tactics like stealth and camouflage to surprise their prey.
Some tarantulas use the 'tap and pounce' strategy to attract their victims. When they catch their prey, they deliver a venomous bite to immobilize it and then use digestive enzymes to turn it into liquid food. They also use their retractable claws to catch their prey.
6. Mating is a risky business for male tarantulas.
The male tarantula's mating journey is dangerous, with survival being the ultimate goal. After living solitary for several years, the male leaves his burrow searching for a mate. Upon finding a potential partner, the male performs a courtship dance, which may involve leg tapping, drumming, and vibrations, to gain the female's attention. He also releases pheromones to signal his intentions.
If the female tarantula accepts the male's advances, mating occurs. The male carefully maneuvers to deposit his sperm into specialized structures called palpal bulbs. After mating, the male must quickly retreat to avoid being cannibalized by the female, as this behavior is typical of most spiders.
The female then stores the sperm for an extended period, often several months or even years, until she decides to lay eggs. She constructs a silk egg sac and deposits hundreds of fertilized eggs inside. The female protects the egg sac, periodically rotating and tending to it to ensure proper development until the eggs hatch.
Once the baby tarantulas, also called spiderlings, hatch, they emerge from the egg sac. The female tarantulas may continue to care for them for a short period before they disperse and begin their independent lives.
These young tarantulas grow and molt their exoskeletons multiple times a year, while adults molt less frequently. Female tarantulas can live up to 30 years, while males live around seven years.
7. They are experts in concealing themselves.
Like most spiders, tarantulas are experts at camouflage. They have evolved remarkable techniques to hide from predators and catch their prey. The light brown hair of tarantulas allows them to blend with sandy tones; in the jungle, their dark hues help them disappear into foliage. Furthermore, tarantulas, resembling rocks or wood, can stay perfectly still for hours.
Some species, like the Pink Toe Tarantula, can even change their body color to match their surroundings. They can produce silk to create structures that blend in, providing protective hideouts during molting.
If you're intrigued by creatures that excel at blending in, learn from our chameleon facts, who is equally skilled in camouflage.
8. Tarantulas are good silk spinners.
Many tarantulas have a fascinating way of using silk, a remarkable material produced by special glands inside their abdomens. Their spinnerets, specialized organs, tirelessly spin silk for various purposes1.
Silk serves several functions for tarantulas. It lines their burrows, creating a cozy, insulated space that acts as a security system, alerting them to approaching threats. Tarantulas also use silk to wrap their prey tightly, preventing escape. Moreover, they use their silk to create a soft bed for eggs or a mat for molting. Male tarantulas even spin a unique "sperm web" of silk to transfer sperm during mating.
9. They have unique sensory systems.
Another fascinating tarantula fact is that tarantulas have an incredible ability to sense their surroundings through vibrations2. Their legs have sensory organs called 'slit sensilla' that detect even the slightest tremors.
Fluid-filled slits in their exoskeleton respond to vibrations, sending signals to their brain. Additionally, tarantulas have hairs all over their bodies that act as antennae, detecting air movements and warning them of potential threats or prey.
Their pedipalps function like feelers, helping them navigate and handle their prey, while the 'organ of Peyer' allows them to detect chemical signals in their environment.
10. Tarantulas can regenerate.
Tarantulas can self-amputate a damaged leg and grow a new one through molting.
The new limb starts smaller and weaker but gradually grows to its original size and strength. Although this ability becomes less frequent as tarantulas age, studying their limb regeneration offers valuable biological and medical research insights.
Axolotls are another excellent animals that can regenerate. Learn more in our axolotl facts.
11. The tarantula hawk wasp is their top predator.
The tarantula hawk wasps (also called the parasitic pepsis wasp) hunt tarantulas. The female wasp stings the tarantula to paralyze it. Then, it carries the tarantula's body back to the burrow and lays eggs on the spider's body. When the egg hatches, the wasp larvae will have a ready food source in the paralyzed spider, which they feed on as they grow.
12. Arachnophobia is the intense fear of spiders.
Did you know that 3-15% of the worldwide population has arachnophobia? In fact, according to Psychiatry Associates, arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias, as it affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men.
This phobia is an anxiety disorder and can often disrupt a person's daily activities. A person diagnosed with arachnophobia can experience the following physical symptoms: shaking, intense sweating, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, upset stomach, and dizziness. Treatment for this condition involves therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
13. Eleven tarantula species are protected under the Endangered Species Act Protection.
These large hairy spiders are facing threats to their survival, primarily due to habitat destruction. As humans clear forests for various purposes, tarantulas lose their homes and food sources, pushing some species toward extinction.
Additionally, the exotic pet trade poses another danger. The high demand for pet tarantulas leads to their capture from the wild, resulting in declining populations. In response to the declining population, the US Fish and Wildlife Service decided to protect 11 species already considered threatened and endangered.
These species are the following: Poecilotheria formosa, Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica (endangered), Poecilotheria metallica (critically endangered and highly sought after in the global pet trade), Poecilotheria miranda, Poecilotheria rufilata, Poecilotheria striata, Poecilotheria fasciata, Poecilotheria ornate (near threatened), Poecilotheria pederseni, Poecilotheria smithi (vulnerable), and Poecilotheria subfusca (near threatened).
Conservation efforts also focus on captive breeding programs to meet the demand for pet tarantulas without harming wild populations.
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Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with T.
Dor, Ariane & Henaut, Yann. (2012). Silk use and spiderling behavior in the tarantula Brachypelma vagans (Araneae: Theraphosidae). Acta Zool. Mex. 28. 1-12.
Barth F. G. (2021). A spider in motion: facets of sensory guidance. Journal of comparative physiology. A, Neuroethology, sensory, neural, and behavioral physiology, 207(2), 239–255.