Tarantulas: Appearance, Diet, and Mating

Tarantulas, according to the “Currently valid spider genera and species” World Spider Catalog, Natural History Museum Bern for December 2022, consist of 156 genera and 1,046 species of the family Theraphosidae.

What that means to a layperson is there are a lot of different looking, large, and hairy spiders—and there’s probably at least one version of tarantula where you live. And that’s true of most species of spiders, including the:

  1. Wolf Spider
  2. Jumping Spider
  3. Hobo Spider,
  4. Huntsman Spider.

However, there’s good news for those who live near the tarantula species in the United States; these tarantula bites aren’t dangerous. 

Related: How to identify the Black widow spider.

Related: How to identify the Brazilian wander spider.

 Tarantulas eating
A Tarantula catches and eats a Cockroach in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/ Ryan M. Bolton

Tarantulas: Appearance.

In the 1,046 species of tarantulas spread across the planet, there’s a tremendous variety of colors, patterns, and sizes. However, they do share a few traits.

  1. Tarantulas are the largest arachnids on Earth.
  2. They are all large and hirsute.
  3. Most species of tarantulas are brown or black.
  4. The toxicity of bites from tarantulas is rare. 

What do tarantulas in the United States look like?

There are 50 known species of tarantulas in the United States. These tarantulas reside in Kansas, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The desert tarantula.

The Desert tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) is found in California, New Mexico, and Arizona. Females are tan. Males are noted for their black legs, copper-colored head and thorax, and reddish abdomens. Female desert tarantulas can be 2.25 inches long and nearly 5 inches wide.

The brown tarantula.

Brown tarantulas, also known as Oklahoma and Texas brown tarantula spiders, have a leg span of about 4 – 5 inches and are pretty good-natured. However, they are best known for their often crazy long life spans (females can live for more than 30 years).

What do tarantulas look like outside the United States?

Most tarantulas live in Central and South American jungles. Here we find the largest (king) of the spiders, the Goliath Bird Eater, and the Red-Rump tarantula. 

Tarantulas in Southeast Asia live on the ground and in trees and have widely different colors and patterns. Examples of the color patterns found amongst these tarantulas include the Thai Black tarantula and Myanmar’s Cobalt Blue Tarantula spider.

Related: How long do ants live?

Related: What do ants eat?

Tarantulas: Anatomy.

  1. Abdomen: The rear part of the tarantula houses the lungs, heart, stomach, and reproductive organs. Protruding from the end are the spinnerets. 
  2. The cephalothorax: The front half of the tarantula contains the brain, venom glands, and digestive organs inside it. Extending from it are the legs, pedipalps, and fangs.
  3. Pedicel: The central tube containing blood vessels and nerves that join the abdomen and the cephalothorax together.
  4. Carapace: A hard exoskeleton protecting the cephalothorax and containing the eyes and fovea.
  5. Fovea: A grove on the abdomen providing varying degrees of mobility.
  6. Chelicerae: The mouth of the tarantula.
  7. Pedipalps: Sensory and sexual appendages. Male tarantulas coat the pedipalps with sperm and insert them into the female’s reproductive opening during mating.
  8. Legs: Tarantulas have eight legs covered in hair to help them detect the vibrations made by prey or approaching danger.
  9. Spinnerets: Two pairs of silk-producing appendages extending from the abdomen. 

As well as their body size, tarantulas are best known for their large, visible fangs and the two larger eyes (of the eight) in the middle of their heads.

Tarantula Tarantula baby
Closeup picture of an egg sac with offspring in the larval stage of the cobalt blue earth tiger tarantula Haplopelma (Cyriopagopus) lividum [Theraphosidae: Ornithoctoninae] from Thailand and Myanmar. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com Tobias Hauke

What do baby tarantulas look like?

Baby tarantulas look just like a smaller, bald version of their parents.

Baby tarantulas grow dramatically by shedding their old exoskeletons with each molt.
The period between molts is called an instar. Baby tarantulas will molt multiple times before becoming mature.

Tarantulas: Diet.

Tarantulas will consume almost anything they deem suitable in size and available with a quick ambush or short chase. However, they primarily consume insects like beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas, roaches, sow bugs, and caterpillars.

Larger prey include snakes, birds, frogs, toads, and lizards.

How does a tarantula catch its prey?

Tarantulas hunt at night. By stalking in a deliberate, slow fashion, the hairs on their legs help them detect potential prey. Upon detection, tarantulas dash forward and land on their victims. Then, grabbing them with their front legs, they bite and inject a paralyzing venom instead of wrapping their prey in a web.

After securing their victim, tarantulas use their fangs to kill it and inject digestive enzymes that liquify it.

How do tarantulas mate?

Tarantulas a solitary and territorial arachnids, right up until mating season. During mating season, male tarantulas will travel great distances in search of females who remain close to their burrows.

During the tarantula mating season males charge their pedipalps with sperm and search for the chemical scent ready females emit to attract a mate. Once the locate a female’s burrow, they will lightly tap on the door and begin a courtship dance to attract her attention.

If the female is willing, the male’s pedipalps are inserted into the reproductive opening in the female’s abdomen. Male tarantulas quickly leave before the female changes her willingness to have him around, but typically die shortly after mating.

The female will then create an egg sac containing several hundred eggs. These eggs will hatch thirty days later, producing spiderlings.

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Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for ThePredatorHunter.com.

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