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Tarantulas: Answers to Common Questions About These Solitary Creatures

Updated on January 13, 2017
ScienceShot: Spiders' Silk Slippers Help Them Stick
ScienceShot: Spiders' Silk Slippers Help Them Stick | Source

Introduction

This article explains in detail the many fascinating and interesting facts about huge, hairy 'spiders' called tarantulas (theraphosidae). This topic of tarantulas also known as spiders (even though they're not true spiders as explained in The Natural History of Tarantula Spiders, by Richard C. Gallon) is generally a topic of taboo. Many individuals are very much terrified of them! But, I think that much of this phobia is caused by a misunderstanding of these creatures. Are tarantulas poisonous to humans? Are they aggressive, and do they bite? Why would someone want one as a pet? What kinds of things do they do? How does a tarantula molt or shed its exoskeleton? All of these questions and more will be answered within this article. This article is meant to educate the reader on tarantulas and help many people understand that they are not the scary things that horror movies are made of! They are generally very docile and quiet creatures, and they prefer a nice, quiet space of retreat. Let’s get started on answering these many questions that many people have about these solitary creatures!

Beautiful Carapace of Rose Hair Tarantula

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Lifespan, Eating Habits, And Differences Between Sexes

Tarantulas don’t require a lot of attention. My first one that I owned was a female Rose Hair Tarantula. She also had a very pretty pink coloring on her coat of hair. Rose Hair Tarantulas are brown, but they have a subtle pink sheen. I have owned several tarantulas, and they were very easy to keep, however never house more than one within an enclosure! They are not social with other tarantulas at all, and eventually you will end up with one big tarantula! Yes, very often one of the two will become the victim and be eaten by the other.

My apologies for not videoing or taking pictures with a digital camera of my tarantulas back in the day. I had an old camera and no video device back then. However, I will use pictures and videos made available to me so that the reader may have a better understanding of the subjects discussed in this article.


Lifespan

My first tarantula lived to be about 12 years old. The females tend to live longer than the males if given the proper care, and many females live at least 10 years or longer. Males, once they mature, usually live no longer than 2 years in captivity. This is what I remember from all of my days of owning them as pets. I recommend reading the Wikipedia for more information on their lifespan. It was reported that one lived to be 49 years old (Guinness World Records).

Many times after mating with a female, the male will be consumed by the female. Yes, I mean eaten. This is not as common among tarantulas as many people believe (Aquatic Community). I had a male Curly Hair Tarantula who lived about two years after his maturation molt (shedding of exoskeleton). The males do not have as long of a lifespan compared to females regardless of whether or not they’re consumed by the female during the tarantula mating process.The males are much more active and tend to scout for females in the wild, while females will remain in their burrows (terrestrial females) or within their silk that is spun in trees (arborial females).

As I mentioned earlier, a tarantula will molt or shed its exoskeleton several times throughout its lifetime, on average about once a year after it becomes an adult. It can even regenerate lost appendages! It will stop eating and become very sluggish several days or weeks before it is ready to shed its exoskeleton. It may also have some hair loss from the abdomen (opisthosoma). When it is ready to molt its exoskeleton, it will turn over on its back, and will exhibit very slow movements until the entire exoskeleton is shed. This can take anywhere from several minutes to 12 hours. It is always important to never disturb a tarantula while it is molting! They are under much stress during their molt, and disrupting it can result in its death!

Mexican Red Rump Tarantula Molting! Time Lapsed Video

Eating Habits

A tarantula’s main staple food is crickets, but they also love meal worms. These food items contain a lot of protein, and tarantulas only need to eat once or twice a week. However, believe it or not, my Rose Hair Tarantula went for about a year without eating. She drank water, but would not even touch crickets or meal worms that I tried feeding her. These creatures have very slow metabolisms, for they are ectothermic and obtain their body heat from the environment. During a feeding, once the cricket or meal worm is dropped within the enclosure, the tarantula lunges at the little critter and holds it within its jaws or chelicerae while slowly rotating its body in a circular motion. When it eats, food is broken down by injecting venom into the prey. This venom slowly dissolves the food, until the tarantula completely digests every part that is edible, leaving behind the indigestible parts of food in a ball called a food bolus.

Rose Hair Tarantula Eating Crickets

South American Pink Toe Tarantula

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It's also very important for a tarantula to get plenty of water. Different species require different water intake requirements. I used to leave water in little sea shells that I would turn upside down. They do actually drink from these little dishes. Another way that they can take in water is through their abdomen or opisthosoma. I had a sprayer bottle that held water, and I would spray my South American Pink Toe Tarantula's (arboreal tarantula) enclosure about once a day. I would spray my Rose Hair Tarantula's (terrestrial tarantula) enclosure about twice a week. Different species require different water requirements.

Morphology of Male Tarantula

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Difference Between Sexes

There are several differences between females and males. The most obvious difference is that females are usually larger and have a larger abdomen. Another difference is that males have much longer legs with smaller bodies. A sexually immature tarantula will go through several molts before it is sexually mature. When I bought my Curly Hair Tarantula (which was a male), it was quite small and looked as though it was a female. I remember him going through one of his molts, and when he emerged, I was surprised! Underneath that exoskeleton that he had just shed, was the most unusual looking tarantula, with the most obvious characteristic being his long legs. He also had very large pedipalps, which are the appendages of an arachnid right in front of the first pair of legs. At the very end of his pedipalps were large round bulb-like structures. He also had little spurs; one spur on each front leg. These spurs are for balancing his body during the mating process. He hooks them onto the female's front pair of legs during mating. The bulb-like structures on the ends of his pedipalps are for storing sperm. Yes, I know it sounds like something from a science fiction movie! Above is a photo of a male tarantula showing its sexual morphology.


Sperm Web of Tarantula

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After a male fully emerges from his exoskeleton, his bulb-like structures on his pedipalps are empty of semen. The male will then make something called a sperm web. This allows him to transfer the sperm from his abdomen to his pedipalps. The pedipalps are then full of semen, and he is ready to mate. To the right is a photo of a sperm web and below is a photo of two tarantulas mating.

Mating Tarantulas

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Aggressive Behaviors, Detection Of The Environment, And Silk Production

Aggressive Behaviors, Urticating Bristles, and Biting

Tarantulas exhibit a few aggressive behaviors. The most common behavior is flicking their hairs from their abdomens onto the supposed predator (and the tarantula may think that it is you)! The terrestrial tarantulas will appear as if they're scratching their abdomens but will be kicking their urticating bristles into the air and onto the individual that they assume is a threat. These defense hairs may cause your skin to itch (urticate) or burn. The worst case scenario is that an individual rubs his or her eyes after handling one and gets these irritating hairs in the eyes. I've heard of this happening to children in classrooms, and there is not very much that a doctor can do to remove the hairs, so always make sure you wash your hands after handling one! A tarantula does not have to purposely inflict these hairs onto an individual to cause discomfort, and irritability of these hairs varies from species to species. The arboreal tarantulas usually do not scratch the hairs off of their abdomens as a defense maneuver; instead they will move their abdomens from side to side trying to protect themselves from the assumed threat. I have never experienced this problem with any of my tarantulas. The most discomfort I had was some itching on my hands, but I always remembered to wash my hands after handling one of them. This cleans your hands of any remaining lose hairs.

Another aggressive behavior that tarantulas exhibit is rearing up on their hind legs and spreading their fangs! This is a dead giveaway that they are ticked! Always pay attention to any kind of behavior that you perceive as aggressive. This might just prevent you from getting bitten! Always play it smart.

The last aggressive behavior to be discussed is biting. This is VERY rare, and if it does happen, I'm sure it will be painful. Albeit painful, the potency of the venom of most tarantulas is no worse than that of a bee sting. I have never been bitten, but the species that I handled were not aggressive ones. Most species that are sold as pets are not aggressive, but there are a few aggressive tarantulas that are sold at many of the pet stores. I would stay clear of buying an aggressive species for a first time tarantula owner.

Eyes Of A Tarantula

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Detection Of The Environment: How A Tarantula Senses The Environment

Tarantulas have very poor eyesight, lack any hearing apparatus, and have lots of sensory hairs to detect their environment. They have eight very small, black eyes located on the top of the carapace. They do not see very well, and at the most, can detect variances in light and shadow. When housing one, it is important to note that bright lighting tends to be very irritating to it, and it prefers a quiet dark place. Here is a photo depicting the eyes of a tarantula.

Tarantulas have no way of hearing, but to compensate for this, they have sensory hairs all over their body. These hairs pick up vibrations from the environment as stated in a blog (Tarantula Anatomy, by Brett MacQuarrie). They have a very keen sense of touch and vibrations to wind. I remember on several occasions, while holding a tarantula and talking at the same time, they would react to the "P" sound. If I spoke a word with a 'P' in it, the tarantula would pull its legs closer to its body, as if to guard itself. They also have little hairs on their feet that help them grasp onto objects while they're climbing.

Tube Web

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Silk Production

A tarantula has organs called spinnerets located at the rear of the abdomen. These organs produce silk, which terrestrial tarantulas often use to line the inside of their burrows. My Rose Hair Tarantula would line her substrate (I used vermiculite, which is a medium used for potted plants) with silk. I would try to pick up one piece of the substrate, and the entire bedding of substrate was attached to that one piece. They use this silk to create a kind of cushion in their burrows (Spider Facts). It helps to soften the inside of the burrow.

As for arboreal (tree dwelling) species of tarantulas, many of these species make tube webs (Tarantulas, by Conrad J. Storad). My Pink Toe Tarantula made very intricate tube webs, and these webs were very thick. Any food that I would feed to it, I would drop into the tube web, and the food would be consumed very quickly. Above is a picture of a tarantula inside its tube web.

Source

Endangered Mexican Red Knee

There are many endangered species of tarantulas as listed in The Tarantula Database. The commonly owned Mexican Red Knee Tarantula, Brachypelma smithi, is on the endangered list from CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna). This is because of its popularity in pet trading (WAZA, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Because it is on the endangered list, I would avoid purchasing any of this species. Continued purchase of these animals will only contribute to the removal of them from their natural habitat, which will continue to decrease their population. Its native habitat consists of the tropical forests of Mexico and Central America (SpiderRoom.info). Above is a picture of a Mexican Red Knee Tarantula.

Conclusion

As you can see, tarantulas are some of the most interesting creatures in the world! They do exhibit many unique behaviors, and there are many unique species including arboreal and terrestrial species. You've been informed on many things including lifespan, eating habits, courtship, and many other interesting behaviors. I hope this article has helped to enlighten you on the wonderful world of tarantulas!

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    • profile image

      mart 2 years ago

      cool is there any more on t's

    • profile image

      Raven137 3 years ago

      I need help my baby is not moving her legs are against her body she hasn't been eating it might be molting I tried the wet paper towel thing but it's been ten minutes and it's not working. Is my baby dead? I love my tarantula her name is Rosie please tell me she's not dead

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      Hugh trainer 3 years ago

      My mexican grey has become seriously aggressive i have trouble even cleaning her water bowl she just attacks me constantly i used to hold her but that's impossible now she just lunges at me constantly she rears up and actually jumps into the air to bite me i have not been bitten thus far as i can no longer even put my hand near her for some odd reason can anyone tell me why this is

    • Danast profile image
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      Dana Stamps 4 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

      Thanks again! I think I'm going to write an article on how to start a fresh water aquarium.

    • duffsmom profile image

      P. Thorpe Christiansen 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      You know what I loved about this article is that it made me see them differently. It is done so well and so thoroughly. It really was an exceptional article. Keep writing, I will be looking forward to more.

    • Danast profile image
      Author

      Dana Stamps 4 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

      Thank you! Animals are a big interest of mine! Having all of those tarantulas sure did teach me a lot. I still have all of my tarantula books. I've often thought of getting another spider (even though they're not 'true spiders'). You're comment means a lot to me, especially since I'm new to Hubpages. I'm so glad I'm on this site! There are so many wonderful hubs to read and so many great people to meet.

    • duffsmom profile image

      P. Thorpe Christiansen 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      So interesting. I really enjoyed this. You are very knowledgeable.

    • Danast profile image
      Author

      Dana Stamps 4 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

      Thank you! They are very easy to care for, and they are probably one of the best pets a person can have, especially if that person wants a low maintenance pet! They are very fascinating, and many of them are quite gorgeous!

    • Judah's Daughter profile image

      Judah's Daughter 4 years ago from Roseville, CA

      This hub was fascinating! Although I've been afraid of 'spiders' (though you state these are really not spiders), I have always been fascinated by them. It's amazing you took care of them and paid such close attention to their innate behaviors and life cycles. My daughter has friends that have pet tarantulas and was even holding one when she called me one day! I was a bit shocked! lol ~~~ however, owners know their pets well and she certainly was not harmed in the least bit. Voted UP!