10 Amazing Facts About Tarantulas That Should Make You Want One!

Chilean Rose
You speak the word 'tarantula' and people merely see a spider, the likeness of which resembles those vengeful arachnids from the film 'Arachnophobia' but hairier and much bigger. But the tarantula - and indeed all spiders - is so much more than a simple arachnid. Why? Here are 10 reasons:

1. Although their bites can be painful, most tarantulas will only bite after a lot of poking and prodding. Even then, most of their venom is less toxic than that of bees. Most of them.

2. All spiders go through a molting process, but having a tarantula makes this one of the most delightful yet scariest and most heartbreaking aspects of keeping them. When molting, the tarantula will shed its exoskeleton, as well as the stomach lining and female genitalia. They even regrow lost limbs in the process! My Brazilian Black had one poorly formed leg after a molt, which it dropped off and regrew at the next molt.

Why is it delightful? Because it is one of the most amazing things you'll ever see in real life. Here's a time lapse of my Mexican Red Rump molting.

Why is it scary? Because you have to consider what it must feel like being trapped in a shell smaller than you are for ages before you can squeeze out in a process that requires just the correct amount of humidity, the perfect temperature, and good genetics. As a keeper, this is one of the most worrying times.

Why is it heartbreaking? Because sometimes the tarantula will just get stuck in the molt. Sometimes you can help them out; most times you will stress them out so much they'll pull their limbs off and bleed to death. My other Mexican Red Rump got stuck and died as a result, just a few weeks ago.

3. There are dozens of different species of tarantula. They come in all sizes and all the colours of the rainbow. Some of them live up in the trees, like Ghana's Togo Starburst Baboon (Heteroscodra Maculata), but most are terrestrial burrowers. Some species make the most amazing webs and tunnels. The best part is relocating a tarantula into a new enclosure only to see all your ornaments, plants, and water bowl redistributed, sometimes covered with webbing or covered entirely.

Mexican Fireleg
4. Some species of tarantula have hairs on their abdomen, called urticating hairs, which are like little harpoons filled with an irritant. They kick the hairs off with their back legs when they feel threatened. For these tarantulas, the flicking of hairs is their first line of defence. Tarantulas without these hairs will likely throw a defensive posture before attacking.

5. When male tarantulas reach maturity, they form hooks on their legs and their pedipalps become shaped like boxing gloves. They will then lay a sperm web, whereon they will excrete their sperm, collect it, and store it in their gloves to deposit inside the female. Male tarantulas' life spans are significantly shorter than females because they are unlikely to survive a molt after becoming mature - the hooks make them get stuck. For this reason, once they are mature, they might become more aggressive and avoid eating as they will only be searching for a mate. The females of some species can live up to 30 years.

6. When males find a female's burrow, they will tap lightly on the webbing. If the female is receptive, she will come out, whereupon the male will dance for her, raising his abdomen, shaking his pedipalps. If she is not happy with his performance, she may attack him or ignore him. If he is successful, she will allow him to approach and he will use the hooks on his legs to keep her fangs away from him until he successfully deposits her sperm. He has to make a run for it when he's done though, as females usually like to eat the males after mating to replenish her food supply to grow the eggs. Females can lay between 200 to 2000 eggs.

7. Tarantulas breathe through two pairs of lungs on the anterior of their abdomen. They are called book lungs because their folded inner membranes resemble the pages of a book!

8. Some scientists believe certain tarantulas have silk spigots on the bottom of their feet similar to their spinnerets at their abdomen. It is currently a controversial idea.

9. Sexing a tarantula is somewhat of an art: ventral sexing is possible if one is practiced, but the most reliable method involves soaking the shed exoskeleton in water and examining the part between the first set of book lungs for the existence of or lack of spermathecae.

10. A tarantula's heart is not controlled with muscle like our hearts but rather through a system of nerve cells. As it beats, it spreads the tarantula's blood, called hemolyph, through the sinuses inside the tarantula's body.

So what are you waiting for! Just a warning though, they are addictive!

Great online stores in South Africa:
Rozzer's Tarantulas

{Image credits:
Green Bottle Blue: By Luis José Quintero-Morillo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 
Socotra Island Blue Baboon: By Marc BRETHES - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17114985
Mexican Fireleg: By Viki - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=121514
Defensive posture: By Sascha Grabow www.saschagrabow.com - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13294331}


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