Are tarantulas insects? This is a common question that arises when discussing these fascinating creatures. At first glance, you might think they are insects due to their multiple legs and sometimes creepy appearance. However, there’s more to the story.
Tarantulas, while technically a type of arachnid, are actually closer to spiders than insects. In fact, as you begin to learn more about their features and characteristics, you’ll realize that they differ significantly from insects. For example, while insects have three body segments and six legs, tarantulas have two body segments and eight legs.
In addition to their physical differences, tarantulas also have other unique traits that set them apart from insects. These fascinating creatures have a diet that mainly consists of insects like grasshoppers and crickets, occasionally eating small mammals or baby birds. So, while they may resemble insects at first glance, tarantulas are a unique and distinct group all their own.
What are Tarantulas
Tarantulas are fascinating creatures belonging to the class of arthropods called Arachnida. These large, hairy spiders come in various sizes, with some females having a leg span of up to 11 inches. They’re part of the theraphosidae family and have over 900 species in different genera. Some important features to remember about tarantulas include:
- Eight legs
- Bristles covering their body and legs
- Distinctive abdomen
Tarantulas are also known for their molting process. This is when they shed their old exoskeleton in order to grow. Both males and females go through this process, but males usually stop after reaching maturity.
In the wild, tarantulas can live up to 30 years, with females typically having a longer lifespan than males. However, in captivity, their life expectancy is generally shorter. Here’s a comparison table of some key features between tarantulas in the wild and captivity:
|Can live up to 30 years
|Shorter life expectancy
|Face more predators
|Protected from most threats
Considering their impressive size, tarantulas can weigh anywhere between a few grams to well over an ounce, depending on the individual and the species.
Distribution and Habitat of Tarantulas
Tarantulas can be found in various parts of the world, with most species living in South America and North America. While some tarantulas prefer living on the ground, others dwell in trees. This difference in habitat preference influences their behavior and appearance.
Ground-dwelling tarantulas, like the Arkansas chocolate tarantula, often create burrows to shelter themselves. They may line these burrows with silk for added protection. On the other hand, the pink-toed tarantula lives in trees in rainforest regions of northern South America.
Here are some key features of the typical habitats of tarantulas:
- Found in South America and North America
- Live in both ground and tree environments
- Burrows for ground-dwelling species
- Tree-dwelling species in rainforests
Remember, tarantulas are fascinating creatures with diverse habitats. Whether they live on the ground or in the trees, these spiders have adapted to their surroundings, ensuring their survival in different environments.
Tarantulas vs Insects
When it comes to understanding tarantulas and insects, it’s important to know that they belong to different groups. Tarantulas are part of the family Theraphosidae with over 900 different species, while insects make up a much larger class called Insecta. Let’s explore some key differences between them:
Number of Legs: Tarantulas are arachnids, and like all arachnids, they have eight legs. On the other hand, insects have six legs, which is one of their defining features.
Body Segments: Arachnids, including tarantulas, have two main body segments: the cephalothorax and the abdomen. Insects, however, have three body segments: the head, thorax, and abdomen.
Here is a comparison table outlining more differences between tarantulas and insects:
|Number of Legs
|2 (cephalothorax and abdomen)
|3 (head, thorax, and abdomen)
Considering these differences, it’s clear that tarantulas and insects have distinct features that set them apart. By knowing these distinctions, you’ll have a better understanding of the fascinating world of arachnids and insects.
Physical Features of Tarantulas
Tarantulas are unique creatures with distinct physical features. In this section, we’ll explore their size, leg span, fangs, eyes, color, urticating hairs, claws, cephalothorax, and spinnerets.
Size and Leg Span: Tarantulas are pretty big compared to other spiders. Their size ranges from 4.75 inches (11-13 centimeters) in females to 3.5 inches (9 centimeters) in males for tree-dwelling species. No matter the size, their impressive leg span adds to their striking appearance.
Fangs and Eyes: Tarantulas have two large fangs that inject venom into their prey. But don’t worry, their bites usually aren’t dangerous to humans. They have eight eyes, but interestingly, their vision is quite poor.
Color: Tarantulas come in a variety of colors, including shades of brown, black, and even blue. Some species, like the pink-toed tarantula, have distinctive markings on their legs.
Urticating Hairs: One unique defense mechanism of tarantulas involves their urticating hairs. When threatened, they rub these hairs off their abdomen and into their predator’s eyes, irritating and discouraging the attacker.
Claws: Tarantulas have two claws at the end of each leg, along with a pad of hairs that serve various purposes. These features make them excellent climbers and help them grip onto surfaces.
Cephalothorax and Spinnerets: A tarantula’s body consists of two main parts, the cephalothorax (a fused head and thorax) and abdomen. On their abdomen, they have spinnerets that produce silk, but unlike other spiders, they use this silk to line their burrow instead of creating a web for catching food.
In summary, tarantulas have a variety of physical features that make them fascinating creatures. From their size and leg span to their unique defense mechanisms, they provide an interesting example of nature’s diversity.
Tarantulas’ Diet and Hunting Behavior
You might wonder what tarantulas eat and how they hunt their prey. Tarantulas feed on a variety of animals, such as:
As an ambush predator, tarantulas use their sharp fangs to inject venom into their prey, paralyzing them. The venom contains enzymes that break down the prey’s tissue, allowing the tarantula to consume it.
Although their bite can be painful, tarantulas rarely pose a threat to humans. If bitten, you might experience mild pain, itchiness, and swelling at the bite area, but the venom is not lethal.
Remember, while observing tarantulas in the wild, always admire them from a safe distance, and respect their hunting techniques that make them a fascinating species.
Reproduction and Lifespan of Tarantulas
Male and Female Tarantulas: Male tarantulas generally have a shorter lifespan than females. Males typically live for 5 to 10 years, while females can live up to 30 years. Males also tend to be smaller and have a more slender appearance compared to their female counterparts.
Molting: Tarantulas undergo molting, a process in which they shed their exoskeleton to grow larger. This process is essential for tarantula growth and allows them to repair any damage to their exoskeleton.
- Males: They usually stop molting once they reach sexual maturity and will live for a short period after their final molt.
- Females: They continue molting throughout their lives, although the frequency of molting decreases as they age.
- Sperm – The mature male tarantula will spin a small web called a sperm web, where they deposit their sperm.
- Searching for a mate – Male tarantulas then embark on a search for a female, which may involve considerable travel for some species.
- Courting and mating – Upon finding a female, the male will perform a courtship dance to signal his intentions. If successful, he will inject the sperm into the female’s reproductive organs using his pedipalps.
When it comes to reproduction and lifespan, tarantulas exhibit significant differences between males and females. Remember that these fascinating creatures can live for several years and undergo unique processes, adding to the diverse and fascinating world of spiders.
Tarantulas as Pets
Having a tarantula as a pet can be an exciting experience. They are unique creatures that require specific care and attention.
When you decide to keep a tarantula as a pet, it’s important to choose the right species. For example, the Chilean rose and the Mexican red-kneed tarantulas are popular choices due to their relatively docile nature.
Housing and Environment
Tarantulas need a comfortable and safe environment to thrive in. Here are some key aspects of their habitat:
- Adequate space: Ensure their enclosure provides enough room for them to move and explore.
- Proper substrate: A bedding of coconut fiber, peat moss, or vermiculite is suitable.
- Appropriate hide: Tarantulas love a dark corner to retreat to, so provide a hideaway like a half log or cave.
Temperature and humidity are crucial for tarantulas. Maintain around 70-85°F and 50-70% humidity, depending on the species.
Tarantulas have a simple diet consisting mainly of insects. They feed on:
Feed your tarantula every couple of days, depending on their age and size.
Handling and Interaction
Interaction with tarantulas varies by species. Some tarantulas may tolerate handling, while others might be more aggressive or skittish. Always be cautious and gentle when handling your tarantula.
Remember, tarantulas can be a unique and rewarding addition to your life. By providing appropriate care and attention, your eight-legged friend will thrive in its new home.
Tarantulas and Their Predators
Though tarantulas might seem intimidating, they also have their fair share of predators. Some of the most common ones include:
- Larger lizards
These predators can pose a real threat to the tarantula. However, tarantulas have developed some impressive defense mechanisms to protect themselves.
One fascinating behavior is their ability to flick hairs from their abdomen when threatened. These hairs can cause irritation or even an allergic reaction for the predator. This defense helps tarantulas fend off enemies, giving them a chance to escape.
Another primary predator of tarantulas is the tarantula hawk, a species of pepsis wasp. Tarantula hawks are known for their powerful sting, which can be very painful for humans as well. These wasps are capable of taking down tarantulas much larger than themselves.
Critters like coatis, mongooses, and opossums are also known to prey on tarantulas. These animals often rely on their physical strength or agility to overwhelm the spider and avoid its defenses.
While tarantulas do possess venom, their toxicity is generally low and rarely causes severe harm to humans. A fall from a height can be more dangerous for the tarantula itself, as its exoskeleton can easily damage or crack upon impact.
In conclusion, tarantulas face various predators in their natural habitat and have developed several defense mechanisms to keep themselves safe. Now that you know more about their encounters with predators, you can better understand their role in the ecosystem.
Interesting Facts About Tarantulas
Did you know that tarantulas aren’t insects but actually belong to the Arachnid family, like spiders? They are known for their large size, vibrant colors, and interesting behavior.
Size and Color: Tarantulas can grow quite large, with some species having a leg span of up to 10 inches. They come in various colors, like beautiful shades of blue, green, and even metallic gold.
Lifespan: Most tarantulas have a long life span, with females living up to 20 years or more, while males usually have a shorter life expectancy.
Webs and Silk: Unlike other spiders, tarantulas don’t spin intricate webs to catch prey. They use their silk to make burrows or lay down sheets of silk as a sensitive tripwire, detecting approaching threats or prey.
Behavior and Activities: These fascinating creatures are mainly active during nighttime. During the day, they hide in burrows and emerge at dawn and dusk to hunt.
Some of their behaviors include:
- Rose tapping: Males perform this courtship ritual by tapping their front legs on the female’s silk to announce their presence, to avoid being mistaken for prey.
- Urticating hairs: When feeling threatened, some tarantulas release a cloud of tiny, irritating hairs from their abdomen, which can deter predators.
- Climbing: While some species are ground dwellers, others are capable of climbing trees and walls thanks to their hooked feet.
Despite their appearance, most tarantulas are not aggressive towards humans, and their bites are generally no worse than a bee sting. So next time you see one of these eight-legged creatures, take a moment to appreciate their unique characteristics and the fascinating world of tarantulas.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Tarantula Climbs into Bed in Santa Rosa
Subject: Huge black spider in our bed
Location: Santa Rosa, CA
December 1, 2016 9:44 pm
My wife found this huge black spider crawling on our bed. Would you happen to know what it is?
Signature: Michael K
This is most definitely a Tarantula, and it is most likely a male wandering in search of a mate. Tarantulas might bite if carelessly handled, but the bite is not dangerous, causing little more than local swelling and tenderness. Urticating hairs can cause irritation and a severe skin reaction in sensitive people. We are postdating your submission to go live on Christmas Day when we will be out of the office for the holidays.
Wow. That is amazing. We had thought it was a female crevice weaver. So cool to find out it was actually a tarantula. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to look at those pictures.
Letter 2 – Tarantula
Location: bay area n.california
November 16, 2010 11:45 pm
my son and I found this guy while hiking. Just curious as to what type of tarantula it is. Thank you
Signature: Sean Miller
Your Tarantula is in the genus Aphonopelma. BugGuide has this information posted: “The Aphonopelma of North American are poorly known. Although many species have been described few specimens can be properly identified either by using available keys or by wading through species descriptions . Most identifiable specimens belong to species found in Mexico or Central America that are easily recognized by unique color patterns, such as that of A. seemanni . Correct identification of specimens collected within the United States is often suspect since determinations must be based on the process of elimination using collection dates and locality data in combination with coloration, coxal setation, and metatarsal scopulation .
Quote taken from: http://americanarachnology.org/JoA_free/JoA_v25_n2/JoA_v25_p137.pdf“
Letter 3 – Tarantula
Subject: Bug! Big Bug! Texas brown tarantula, perhaps?
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
September 14, 2012 11:06 am
I found this new friend at our front door this morning at 10 AM, Sept. 14, 2012. Made a mundane trip to the grocery store rather more exciting than usual. We live in the heart of Texas, in southern Coryell County. We had a cool front blow in yesterday morning, and it’s been raining/drizzling steadily since. Temps are ranging between 65-80 degrees today, very humid. We live at the edge of town, with brushy pastures and oak trees at the end of our block.
I don’t think this spider likes the rain. Is it a Texas brown tarantula, perhaps a male? (Good old Wikipedia guess.)
Signature: Ellen from Texas
What a wonderful surprise. Male Tarantulas wander in search of mates and females are generally only found in or near their burrows. This might be a Texas Brown Tarantula, Aphonopelma hentzi, but we cannot be certain (See BugGuide). To the best of our knowledge, all North American Tarantulas are in the genus Aphonopelma, and this is what BugGuide has to say about the identification: “The Aphonopelma of North American are poorly known. Although many species have been described few specimens can be properly identified either by using available keys or by wading through species descriptions . Most identifiable specimens belong to species found in Mexico or Central America that are easily recognized by unique color patterns, such as that of A. seemanni . Correct identification of specimens collected within the United States is often suspect since determinations must be based on the process of elimination using collection dates and locality data in combination with coloration, coxal setation, and metatarsal scopulation .”
Subject: Bug! Big Bug! Part II
Location: Coryell County, central Texas
September 14, 2012 3:12 pm
Hi, I looked out the window and saw that the spider had moved. Don’t laugh, but I took quite some time easing my head out of the door in order to locate the spider. It climbed higher up the brick wall. Here are a couple of more photos. 3:10 PM on Sept. 14, 2012
Signature: Ellen from Texas
Thanks for the update Ellen. We wonder if this might be a Desert Blond Tarantula, Aphonopelma chalcodes. BugGuide only reports them from Arizona, but your individual sure resembles this photo from BugGuide.
Letter 4 – Tarantula
Subject: Texas Tarantula
Location: McKinney TX
May 27, 2013 2:41 am
I volunteered at a charity event in McKinney, Texas and stumbled across the beauty. A friend of mine sat on short stone wall and was spooked by the tarantula. I quickly dumped my drink out and scooped up the spider, having never encountered one in the wild.
I was hoping you could fill me in on the exact type and sex. I believe (with really no concrete evidence) that it is a male. But again, I don’t know for sure.
I am trying to decide if I should keep him, sell him at a local exotic pet shop, or let him loose.
Thanks in advance for the information, and thank you for a great site.
Signature: Matt G
We believe this is a Texas Brown Tarantula, Aphonopelma hentzi, and you can compare your individual to the photos posted on BugGuide. We would defer sexing this individual to folks who know more about Tarantulas. We would recommend releasing this Tarantula back where it was found. Selling it to a pet store might be illegal if it was captured in a local, state or national park or other protected habitat.
The spider was caught on private property. I have decided to keep him, and got care/feeding/sexing information from the aforementioned pet shop. SHE is currently munching on a 15cent cricket. I learned that she is around 3 years old, and can live up to 20 years. Fascinating!
Thanks for the followup.
Letter 5 – Tarantula
Location: Northern California
May 26, 2013 11:21 pm
I was walking out my front door and I found this huge spider. Being fascinated with insects and arachnids, I caught him and set up a little container for him. What I noticed is that he shares many traits with tarantulas such as: hairy legs, slow movement, and a much larger head than abdomen. His body (cephalothorax + abdomen) is roughly 1 cm long, while when his legs are spread out, he is 1.5 in.
I really do hope this is a young tarantula because I would love to raise one and watch it grow.
This does appear to be a Tarantula, but we would not entirely rule out the possibility that it is a related Trapdoor Spider like members of the genus Calisoga which are represented on BugGuide. Most North American Tarantulas are in the genus Aphonopelma, and according to BugGuide which cites American Arachnology: “The Aphonopelma of North American are poorly known. Although many species have been described few specimens can be properly identified either by using available keys or by wading through species descriptions . Most identifiable specimens belong to species found in Mexico or Central America that are easily recognized by unique color patterns, such as that of A. seemanni . Correct identification of specimens collected within the United States is often suspect since determinations must be based on the process of elimination using collection dates and locality data in combination with coloration, coxal setation, and metatarsal scopulation .”
Letter 6 – Tarantula
Location: 29 palms
September 19, 2013 1:10 pm
We live in 29 palms, ca and I found this spider in my garage. We think its a baby tarantula. But not sure?
You are correct that this is a Tarantula, and based on the photos and range listed on BugGuide, we are guessing it is Aphonopelma eutylenum.
Letter 7 – Tarantula
Subject: Tarantula? What kind?
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
October 7, 2013 11:59 am
We found this guy hanging out at our building during lunch.
We’re in Salt Lake City, last building up the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain Range (about 5000 feet elevation).
Is this a tarantula? We’re pretty sure it is…but if so, what kind??
Signature: Pax Rasmussen
If the experts can’t sort out the North American Tarantulas in the genus Aphonopelma, then there is no way the editorial staff of What’s That Bug? who have art degrees can ever hope to pin this handsome guy down to the species level. See BugGuide for some wonderful similar looking Tarantula photos.
Letter 8 – Tarantula
Subject: Black escape artist tarantula
Location: Tracy, california
November 7, 2013 3:27 pm
I found this beautiful thing crossing the road to my ranch so I picked it up in a lizard habitat i happened to have in the car and it now lives in it. It is about 4-5 inches in diameter and is either sleeping or trying to escape. My ranch
Thanks for sending us your photo. Are Tarantulas common around your ranch?
Hi, sorry for the late reply, the ranch is 5 miles from any road so the internet is terrible. So far I have seen 2, and the other was identical to the one in the picture. I have been told however by a pet store owner in that town that lots of tarantulas are common in my part of california.
Letter 9 – Tarantula
Subject: Is this a tarantula?
Geographic location of the bug: Sebastopol, CA
Time: 02:27 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: My husband was getting ready to ride the GranFondo bike ride in Santa Rosa last weekend and saw this huge spider by his bike shoe. What is it and is it dangerous?
How you want your letter signed: Spiders in Sebastopol
This is indeed a Tarantula. California Tarantulas are not aggressive and they are not considered dangerous.
Letter 10 – Tarantula Drowned in Pool
Geographic location of the bug: East Bay, California (Danville)
Time: 12:49 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi there,
We found this guy at the bottom of the pool in early May, and sadly it doesn’t appear that he was a swimmer. We would love to know what kind of tarantula he was, as it appears most of the local sighting are on Mount Diablo and not down in the valley by us. The California Ebony tarantula seems to be most prevalent in this region, but the pictures we’ve seen online don’t look like an exact match (ie ours has 4 orange spots on his belly). Thank you for any help or advice you might be able to give!!
Ps we didn’t get a chance to measure him but the last picture has the hand of a 12-year-old for reference.
How you want your letter signed: Clueless in Cali
Dear Clueless in Cali,
Based on BugGuide images and the reported range, we believe this is Aphonopelma iodius. According tom SF Bay Wildlife: ” The species in the Bay area has been determined to be Aphonopelma iodius.”
Letter 11 – Tarantula exuvia
Location: Brazil (Amazon, Manaus, Iguazu, and Rio de Janeiro)
October 10, 2012 12:37 pm
When our family came back from Brazil last year we had an unexpected hitchhiker in my daughter’s suitcase. It was a little spider, roughly about an inch in size. My son persuaded us to let him keep the spider as a pet.
Recently my son sent the following photo of our ”little” spider. We were very nervous until we saw that the photo was only of the spider molt.
I saw the movie Arachnophobia and having this unidentified spider as a pet has always made me nervous.
For the record, the spider is not handled at all.
Any help you could provide would be appreciated.
Thank you in advance for your help!
Signature: Nervous Dad
Dear Nervous Dad,
This is the exuvia or cast off exoskeleton of a Tarantula, but we haven’t a clue as to the species. Tarantulas are quite docile and they rarely bite unless threatened. The bite is not considered dangerous. Tarantulas make great pets and they can live in excess of 15 years in captivity. Luckily you did not get caught at customs because smuggling tarantulas and other exotic creatures is illegal.
Thank you for your quick response and reassuring words. Let me see if I can get a picture of the spider itself.
Update from Nervous Dad
Subject: Help (part 2)
Location: Brazil (Amazon, Manaus, Iguazu, and Rio de Janeiro)
October 24, 2012 12:16 pm
You were very helpful in calming my fears and identifying the exuvia of my son’s spider pet. Remember, this is the small spider we found in my daughter’s suitcase when we returned to the USA from Brazil.
I have attached a photo of the spider itself, as promised.
Any help identifying the species would be appreciated…
Thank you in advance for your help!
Signature: Nervous Dad
Hi again Nervous Dad,
We looked at numerous Brazilian Tarantula photos, and this looks closest to the Brazilian Salmon Pink Tarantula, Lasiodora parahybana, that is pictured on the Eight Legs website. According to that site: “The long common name of this species suits its size, as salmon pinks are one of the world’s largest non-marine arthropods (possibly the third largest tarantula species). Adults may range from 8 to 10 inches in legspan, maybe even bigger. They are voracious feeders, fast growers, and very bold.” The attitude is described as: ” Bold. They will often sit out in the open. Some individuals are handy with the urticating hairs, while others are quick to defend themselves via biting. Though they are not as prone to fang-weilding as some other tarantulas, most will make it clear that they do not want to be handled. I’ve had 8, and all of them flicked hair very readily.” We would advise handling with caution, but despite the warning, Tarantulas make wonderful, long lived, though not especially cuddly pets.
I think you are right. We probably picked this spider up at our last stop (Rio — in Eastern Brazil).
Now all i need to worry about are the urticating hairs!
Thank you very much for all your help!
Letter 12 – Tarantula
Identification Request: Fat Spider???
Location: San Leandro, CA
Thursday, November 8, 2012
So, we have another unexpected visitor. I’ve been trying to use your site to send the pics (3) but it just sits and doesn’t seem to send.
Last night outside wall of the house I found what I think is a baby tarantula. It is approx 2″ and is missing one leg. Lived here all my life and have never seen one anywhere near here. My husband is thinking a bird or something got ahold of it and dropped it.
We are in agreement that this is a Tarantula, most likely Aphonopelma eutylenum based on images posted to BugGuide.