Tarantulas

Learn more about the hairy—but harmless to humans—tarantula. Learn how they make use of their toxic venom.

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A burgundy goliath bird eater (Theraphosa stirmi) photographed at Virginia Zoo in Norfolk
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A juvenile Antilles pinktoe tarantula (Avicularia versicolor) photographed at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska
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The legs of an orange baboon tarantula (Pterinochilus murinus) photographed at Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
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A Costa Rican zebra tarantula (Aphonopelma seemanni) photographed at Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
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A Costa Rican zebra tarantula (Aphonopelma seemanni) photographed at Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
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A Peruvian blonde tarantula (Lasiodorides polycuspulatus) photographed at Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
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A Gooty sapphire ornamental tree spider (Poecilotheria metallica) photographed at Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas
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A Trinidad chevron tarantula (Psalmopoeus cambridgei) photographed at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo iand Aquarium in Nebraska
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Common Name: Tarantulas
Scientific Name: Theraphosidae
Diet: Carnivore
Average life span in Captivity:  Up to 30 years.
Size: 4.75 inches long; leg span: up to 11 inches
Weight: 1 to 3 ounces

Size relative to a teacup

IUCN Red List Status: 
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The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species.

lc

Least Concern

At relatively low risk of extinction

nt

Near Threatened

Likely to become vulnerable in the near future

vu

Vulnerable

At high risk of extinction in the wild

en

Endangered

At very high risk of extinction in the wild

cr

Critically Endangered

At extremely high risk of extinction in the wild

ew

Extinct in the Wild

Survives only in captivity

ex

Extinct

No surviving individuals in the wild or in captivity

Data Deficient

Not enough information available to make an assessment

Not Evaluated

No assessment has been made

?
lc
nt
vu
en
cr
ew
ex
least concernextinct
Current Population Trend: 

Unknown


Tarantulas give some people the creeps because of their large, hairy bodies and legs. But these spiders are harmless to humans (except for a painful bite), and their mild venom is weaker than a typical bee's. Among arachnid enthusiasts, these spiders have become popular pets.

Molting

Tarantulas periodically shed their external skeletons in a process called molting. In the process, they also replace internal organs, such as female genitalia and stomach lining, and even regrow lost appendages.

Habitat

There are hundreds of tarantula species found in most of the world's tropical, subtropical, and arid regions. They vary in color and behavior according to their specific environments. Generally, however, tarantulas are burrowers that live in the ground.

Hunting

Tarantulas are slow and deliberate movers, but accomplished nocturnal predators. Insects are their main prey, but they also target bigger game, including frogs, toads, and mice. The South American bird-eating spider, as it name suggests, is even able to prey upon small birds.

A tarantula doesn't use a web to ensnare prey, though it may spin a trip wire to signal an alert when something approaches its burrow. These spiders grab with their appendages, inject paralyzing venom, and dispatch their unfortunate victims with their fangs. They also secrete digestive enzymes to liquefy their victims' bodies so that they can suck them up through their straw-like mouth openings. After a large meal, the tarantula may not need to eat for a month.

Natural Threats

Tarantulas have few natural enemies, but parasitic pepsis wasps are a formidable exception. Such a wasp will paralyze a tarantula with its sting and lay its eggs on the spider's body. When the eggs hatch, wasp larvae gorge themselves on the still living tarantula.

Reproduction

The tarantula's own mating ritual begins when the male spins a web and deposits sperm on its surface. He copulates by using his pedipalps (short, leglike appendages located near the mouth) and then scuttles away if he can—females sometimes eat their mates.

Females seal both eggs and sperm in a cocoon and guard it for six to nine weeks, when some 500 to 1,000 tarantulas hatch.

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