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Tarantulas: Identification, Species, Facts and Information About This Famed Species

Tarantula isolated on white background.

Tarantulas are spread across the world from Asia to the United States, and this species has 800+ sub-species, according to estimates. Some estimates state that there is just over 700 species of tarantula.

And this family of spiders is known for being a household pet.

When you see a spider, you’ll be able to quickly determine if the spider is a tarantula or if it is a different species. There are a lot of characteristics that can help you with the identification process.

Tarantula Identification

Tarantulas are often kept as pets, but they’re also found in the wild – and they’re easy to identify. These spiders have a very unique body structure and appearance.

1. Body Structure and Size

Birdeater tarantula spider Brachypelma smithi in natural forest environment. Bright orange colourful giant arachnid.Popular pets, you’ll find that the average tarantula will range between 7 cm and 10 cm in length, while some species can exceed 30 cm in length. Habitats, colors and size will vary, and with 700 – 850 species of these spiders in the wild, you’ll need to rely on the basic body structure of the tarantula to help identify the spider.

You’ll find that tarantulas have:

  • Brown or black colors
  • Hairy bodies
  • Dense tarantula hairs

Many species have stripes on their legs, which make their leg like appendages very easy to distinguish.

Able to produce a painful bite, the tarantula has a mild venom that feels like a typical bee sting. The fangs are found below the eyes. The tarantula’s legs have retractable claws for climbing, and they have seven segments.

2. Diet, Habits & Behavior

Tarantulas are nighttime hunters, and they use the element of surprise to kill their prey. These spiders are known for eating:

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  • Insects
  • Beetles
  • Grasshoppers

But since there are a variety of species, you’ll find that some eat much bigger prey. The Goliath bird-eating spider, said to be the largest spider in the world, can eat prey that is large, such as snakes, frogs, bats and lizards. There are even cases where birds have been eaten by this spider, but despite their name, they don’t eat birds often.

When they find themselves in danger, tarantulas will defend themselves with sharp barbs on their stomach.

You’ll find that these spiders can rub these hairs together, causing them to fly into the air and hit their predator. The result is irritation and the predator fleeing.

But this spider’s biggest threat is humans.

3. Reproduction and Life Cycle

Male tarantulas must mature before the reproduction cycle can begin, and then the male will become motivated to mate. Males leave their territory to mate, making them deliberate movers that seek out female tarantulas.

This form of migration is dangerous because it puts the male next to humans, which are a big threat to the species.

Tarantula mating on white background.Specialized courting rituals occur, with the male forming a sperm web where the males will deposit their sperm. The next part of the process involves the male spider seeking out the female by tapping on their web or burrow.

Males quickly fertilize the female genitalia and then attempt to escape.

Why?

Females will sometimes eat their mates after the sexual ritual. The interesting part is that even if the male spider does escape, they’ll often die within a few months after intercourse.

The next part of the cycle includes:

  • Females depositing eggs in egg sacs
  • Incubation will occur
  • Eggs hatch and tarantulas are born

Female tarantulas periodically molt their entire lives, but males stop molting after they reach maturity. Molting periods are longer after each molt. Female tarantulas can live up to 35 years, while males will die within a few months of their first copulation.

4. Habitat and Distribution

Tarantulas are found across the world, but the species in each region will vary. You’ll find tarantulas in:

  • United States
  • Central America
  • South America
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Australia
  • Europe

Estimates suggest that there are as many as 850 species of tarantula, with arachnid enthusiasts debating just how many tarantulas are in the wild. In the United States, there are over 50 different species of tarantula.

When you find a tarantula, you’ll primarily find them living in solitude – they don’t want to be bothered by humans. Their habitat can include:

  • Desert basins
  • Mountain foothills
  • Forest slopes

There are tree-living tarantulas, too. You’ll find the tarantula species in jungles and rainforests, and they normally burrow underground using their fangs to dig into the ground. An interesting fact is that these spiders with their hairy bodies won’t spin their own webs.

But they will spin silk to make soft walls or doors and the tree-living species will even make a tunnel-shaped home in the trees.

Tarantula Species

There are hundreds of tarantula species, and there are a few species of particular interest, such as:

1. Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula

The Chilean rose tarantula is what most people associate with a tarantula in America and Europe. This is the most common species in pet stores, and the females may live up to 20 years in captivity.

Docile in nature, these spiders have legs that can reach five inches in length, and their coat consists of reddish-orange hairs.

Sometimes, their hair looks pink, too.

2. Cobalt Blue Tarantula

Beautiful and vibrant in color, the cobalt blue tarantula is metallic blue in color and this is on the body and the legs. While much less common than other species, this tarantula is seen as:

  • Very aggressive
  • Biting very hard

These spiders do not have the urticating hairs to use for defense, so the cobalt spider is very aggressive and will attack if handled. The bite of this spider is much harder than a normal tarantula bite, and they do possess mild venom that is unlikely to cause serious harm to humans.

3. Pink Toe Tarantula

Pink-toed tarantulas have pink-tipped legs, or as some describe it, their legs are orange-tipped. These are arboreal tarantulas, meaning that, unlike other species, these spiders do jump. Docile in nature, this spider will not bite unless provoked, and they tend to consume:

  • Small reptiles
  • Insects

Frogs have also been eaten by this species. Pink-toe tarantulas are not able to release their barbed hair, so they need to be close to a predator to use their utricating hair as a line of defense.

4. Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula

Goliath birdeaters are massive, and due to their size of 30 cm for just their legs, these spiders are often part of the exotic animal trade. Native to South America, this is the largest spider species in the world, and they have:

  • Brown bodies
  • Red bristles
  • Golden appearance

These spiders have eight eyes, yet their eyesight still remains poor. These spiders prefer warm and damp locations to live, and they can eat everything from frogs to mice and even birds.

Tarantula Bites & Treatment

A tarantula spider climbed onto a girl's hand.Tarantulas have fangs, and these animals can hurt if they bite. They have straw-like mouth openings, and their stomach lining has barbs, which can be used for self-defense. But like most animals, they can bite and cause pain, too.

The tarantula does have venom, but the amount and potency is minimal.

You’re not going to die from a tarantula bite in most cases. But what you will experience is:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling

The bite of a tarantula is very similar to that of a bee sting, so there will be pain. If you have an allergic reaction or have an immune deficiency that may cause the venom to do more damage than normal, you may suffer from:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rashes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing

Unless you have a severe allergic reaction to the bite of a tarantula, there’s little risk of any serious side effects. It’s always possible that the bite does cause an allergic reaction, and if this is the case, seek medical attention.

You may receive:

  • Intravenous fluids
  • Breathing support
  • Medication

If you don’t have an allergic reaction, you can follow recommended home care and will find that the side effects and pain will subside quickly. The home care routine is rather standard:

  • Wash the bite area with soap and water.
  • Put an ice pack on the site of the bite.
  • Keep the ice on the area for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pack for 10 minutes.
  • Repeat.

You’ll want to repeat the process above to keep the swelling down and to slow the effects of the venom. If you have blood flow problems, you’ll want to keep the ice pack on for a shorter duration to ensure that no skin damage occurs.

Keeping Tarantula as Pets

Tarantula spider on the hand as pet.You’ll never want to keep female brown recluses or black widow spiders as a pet, but tarantulas are common pets. And given the spider’s long lifecycle, it makes sense for people to keep them as pets for two decades.

Since there are over 800 species of tarantulas, you’ll need to research how to care for the specific species of tarantula that you own.

When keeping these spiders as pets, you’ll want to keep the following points in mind:

  • 5 – 5 gallon aquariums are recommended.
  • Vermiculite should line the bottom of the aquarium with a 2″ – 4″ depth.
  • A hollow log will provide a space for the docile spider to hide.
  • Provide a shallow water dish.
  • Direct sunlight is not recommended.
  • Heating pads can be used to keep the spider’s environment comfortable.
  • Insects will account for their main diet.
  • Feeding for a growing spider is several times per week.

You’ll want to question your local pet store or the place where you purchased the tarantula to find out what the best method of keeping the tarantula as a pet is.

Other Fun Facts About Tarantulas

Tarantulas are fuzzy and cute, but they have venom and a bite that hurts. These spiders are neat, and there are a lot of neat facts that allow us to have an insight into the tarantula as a spider. A few facts that are most interesting are:

  1. Females can live up to 20 years in captivity.
  2. The goliath birdeater spider has legs up to a foot in length and is the size of a puppy.
  3. Tarantulas are docile and don’t want to attack.
  4. Barbed hairs allow the tarantula to throw “needles” at prey.
  5. Tarantulas will ambush their prey and like to hunt in the nighttime.
  6. Tarantulas have retractable claws that allow them to climb.
  7. Tarantulas do spin silk but don’t make webs.
  8. Males will travel great lengths to find a female mate.
  9. Tarantulas can regrow lost legs.

And with 800+ species of tarantulas, each has their own neat facts to learn.

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