Sub Phylum: Chelicerata
Tarantulas are the largest spiders on earth. You will find them in all types of environments, from the deserts of Africa to the tropical rain forests of the Amazon. They belong to the family Theraphosidae which is made up of over 850 species. Tarantulas can reach sizes of over 10 inches and weight over 8 grams. Female tarantulas can live up to 30 years dependent on the species. Male tarantulas usually have a lifespan half as long as Female tarantulas. Tarantulas have fangs that only move up and down unlike other spiders that have opposable fangs.
People often refer to tarantulas in two groups, Old World and New World species. “Old world” refers to a tarantula found in Asia, Europe, Africa etc. “New World” mainly refers to a tarantula found in North and South America. Old World species tend to be more aggressive and have a more potent venom. New World species have urticating hairs. These are tiny little hair like structures that the tarantula will flick off their abdomen when they feel threatened. The hairs cause irritation in most predators, getting into their eyes and nose. These hairs can cause some people to itch. New World species tend to be less aggressive and throw urticating hairs for defense rather than bite. Granted there is always an exception to the rule and all tarantulas can and will bite if they feel threatened.
Other terms people use when referring to tarantulas is weather they are arboreal, terrestrial or burrowing. Arboreal tarantulas tend to live in trees, tall rocks, building sides, or other high places they can get too. Many will make a silk “tube web” to live in. Arboreal tarantulas tend to have better vision than the terrestrial and burrowing tarantulas. Terrestrial tarantulas do not burrow very often but will still hide under a piece of bark or rock if given the chance. They are mainly terrestrial as they will go hunting for food during the evening hours instead of waiting for food to come to them. Burrowing tarantulas usually make a burrow that they line with silk web to help keep clean and to notify them of prey being close. Burrowers spend most of their lives inside of their burrow.
Most tarantula diets are comprised of insects but some tarantulas get large enough to eat rodents and small birds. Some tarantulas actually go out looking for food, slowly sneaking up on prey and jumping on it. Others wait in their burrows or tube web for food to come to them. They will then pull it into their home where they will devour it.
Tarantulas do not eat solid foods. They must first predigest their food by spraying it with a liquid that comes from their chelicerae (fangs). After the food has become liquid they will then slowly suck it in. Their stomach is a long tube the full length of the tarantula body. This system breaks up the food the rest of the way and then absorbs into the tarantulas system.
Tarantulas are not always the hunters, sometimes they can be the prey. There are many types of predators of tarantulas. Some predators include wasp, birds, lizards, snakes, coyotes, scorpions and other spiders. And don’t forget they will eat each other! Yes they can be cannibals.
The biggest predator of the tarantula is the tarantula hawk (Pepsis wasp). They will find and sting the tarantula which paralyzes it. The wasp will then drag it back to its nest. Once there she will lay her egg on the tarantula. When the egg hatches the larva will then consume the tarantula.
Breeding First you need to make sure that they are both ready to mate. Females should not be mated if they have not shed for over 6 months. She will most likely not produce an egg sac before her next shed which will get rid of all the sperm the male deposited. The male is ready once he has shed into his mature state. You can tell that he is mature usually by the hooks in his front legs. Not all species of tarantulas hook out but most do. He will then make what is called a sperm web and the sperm into his paldipulps.
Once you have two tarantulas that are ready its time to put them together. You never want to put the female into the male’s enclosure. If the female’s enclosure is large enough it is best to place the male in her environment. If not, you can transfer the female to a larger container and give her some time to get comfortable before putting the male in with her.
Breeding can take a few minutes to a few hours dependent on many factors. You should keep a close eye on them during the whole procedure to make sure there are no injuries to your tarantula. The male should start to drum his legs on the ground a bit. He will slowly approach her. When they first touch you might notice them go crazy for a minute and think they are fighting. This is the scary part because they could be, but most likely not. He is trying to get his hooks onto her fangs so she can not bite him. Once this has happened he will reach under her with his paldipulps and deposit the sperm inside of her sperm pouch.
Now is the part where you need to intervene. As soon as he lets go of her he will try to run off. If she catches him before he can get way he is toast. Some believe it is not bad to let her eat him cause of the nutrients she gets from it. I personally would like to have my male in tact and mate them again later to make sure the breeding sticks and she has an egg sack.
Tarantulas are very popular in the invertebrate pet world. They range in prices from 25 cents to 100s of dollar or more dependent on their rarity, size and popularity. Some people collect different species as a hobby or others just have one for a pet. They are usually an inexpensive and easy pet to maintain.
If you are thinking of owning a tarantula there are few things you might want to think about first. Tarantulas live many years so it is not a pet that you will get and only have to worry about for a year or two. You need to do the research on the care of the specific tarantula you want to buy. Care does not widely vary but it is important to give your tarantula a healthy environment if you want it to live a long and happy life. Lastly decide if you want a species you can hold and play with or just look at because it is neat. There are many types to choose from so make sure to choose the type that most fits what you are looking for.
Question: Can a tarantula bite kill you?
Answer: Tarantula bites are mostly harmless. Some species have a bite that feels like a bee sting but others can be as bad as having really bad muscle cramps for a week or two. Of course if you are allergic they are more harmful.
Question: My tarantula stopped eating is something wrong?
Answer: If your spider decides to stop eating for a few weeks that’s normal, and may signal an upcoming molt. Not to alarm anyone but other reasons might be that it is too cold, has a fungal infection, worms, or other ailment.
Question: My tarantula is on its back like it is dead, is it ok?
Answer: If you ever see your tarantula on its back, do not disturb it. They turn over on their back to molt and disturbing can interrupt this process and damage your tarantula. Leave it on its back they will right themselves when ready. Also don’t feed your tarantula during this time and remove any live crickets, a freshly molted tarantula is nice soft treat for a lively feeder insect.
Question: How often should I feed my tarantula?
Answer: It all depends on the size and age of your tarantula. Younger tarantulas eat more often than adults. Do not leave excess food in their cage. If they do not eat it remove it.
Other questions? Email info@kenTheBugGuy.com