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The Tarantula: A Docile, Not Deadly, Spider

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The Tarantula: A Docile, Not Deadly, Spider

A Tarantula

Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service, Coconino National Forest

Although tarantulas are often thought to be dangerous, it is not a deadly spider and it rarely bites except in self defense. When it does, it is usually no more serious than the sting of a bee. However, just as some people are allergic to the bee stings, some may be allergic to the bite of the tarantula or other spiders.

Tarantula Identification

Tarantulas:

  • are the largest spiders in the world, but can range from 1 to 4 inches in body length with leg spans of up to a foot/12 inches.
  • have long lives. Females can live up to 30 years, but males will live no more than 10 years and their lifespan is often less than a year.
  • are dark brown on the body and legs reddish hairs on its "back."

Where Tarantulas are found:

  • In the U.S., tarantulas are found primarily in the southern and southwestern states, but they have been found as far north as Utah.
  • They live in underground burrows, coming out at night or, in summer and fall, to mate.
  • Tarantulas can also be found in homes ... but most frequently when kept as pets.

What Tarantulas Do:

  • Tarantulas are nocturnal, that is, they are most active at night. They do not usually wander far from their burrows.
  • During mating season, however, males will journey far from their nests, if needed, to find females. The male will "knock on the door" of a female's burrow (that is, it will tap on the burrow's web). The female may ignore him, respond by coming to out to mate, or may simply eat the wooing male if she is hungry.
  • Tarantulas are actually shy, docile creatures, but they can seem to be aggressive, because a tarantula will take an aggressive stance when it feels threatened: rearing up on its back legs and exposing its fangs ready to attack.
  • Tarantulas eat insects, such as grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets. They are also known to eat baby or small birds or mammals.
  • Birds, snakes, tarantula hawks, foxes, some desert animals, and even other tarantulas, will prey on and eat this spider.

The Tarantula Bite

  • Contrary to popular myth, the bite of tarantulas is not deadly to humans. Some Aftrican species can cause painful, or even hallucinogenic reaction, but this is rare and fairly unknown in the U.S.
  • As with all spiders, tarantulas are venomous, however their venom is not dangerous to humans, and generally has little more impact than a bee sting - unless one is allergic to its venom.
  • In addition to venom in its bite, the tarantula has barbed, venomous hairs on its belly which it can throw in self-defense, causing severe irritation to an attacking animal.
  • If you are bitten, you are advised to seek emergency medical treatment, especially if any allergic reactions are experienced.

How to Control Tarantulas

Because female tarantulas rarely leave their burrows and males venture out only in search of females, it is rare to encounter a tarantula in the home-unless it is a pet. Thus, most experts recommend tolerance and capture and removal rather than any aggressive seek and kill control efforts.

However there are things you can do:

  • Utah State University Cooperative Extension suggests that if a tarantula does enter your home, "put an open container on top of the spider and slide a piece of paper under the opening. Then, flip the container and paper together, trapping the spider inside. The spider can then be safely released outdoors."
  • Spiders tend to spin their webs in quiet, undisturbed areas. You can discourage their presence in the home by frequent cleaning and vacuuming of these areas, such as closets, cellars, corners, etc.
  • General spider control recommendations can be followed if a tarantula does get into your home, or other unwanted area. (See Get Rid of Spiders in Your Home.)

References and Resources

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