7 facts about tarantulas that will amaze you
Tarantulas are some of the most amazing and weird creatures to walk the land. Despite the vast majority being harmless to humans, they have a bad reputation due to their appearance and movement, along with the fear humans attach to spiders in general. In addition, tarantulas tend to get a bad reputation from portrayals in films and television series as aggressive monsters (such as Aragog in Harry Potter, and Shelob in the Lord of the Rings). As such, most people don’t know much about these creatures, so here are seven facts about tarantulas that will amaze you.
1. Tarantulas are naturally very peaceful creatures
Despite their reputation, most tarantulas are peaceful creatures, and rarely present any danger to humans. In fact, as tarantulas can sense the heat from human bodies, they are often aware of us before we are of them and will go and hide. Tarantulas will naturally try and avoid any danger and even if they are forced into defending themselves, they are only likely to inject a small amount of venom, preferring to save the majority for killing their food.
2. Some females can live for up to 30 years
As with all creatures, the lifespan of tarantulas will vary between different species, different sexes, and even different genetic predispositions. However, the sexual dimorphism in tarantulas is far greater than in most animals; female tarantulas can live up to 20 years in the wild and up to 30 in captivity, whereas it is rare to see a male survive longer than 7 years.
3. They use their hair as a defensive mechanism
Along with venom, tarantulas also have another defensive mechanism that most people don’t know about. When threatened, they can fire off tiny hairs at their attacker, which burrow into the skin causing irritation and pain. This is common to many plants and caterpillar species and, like these, tarantula hairs also possess barbed ends, making them very difficult to remove. If untreated, these barbs can cause permeant scarring, and even blindness if they get in the eyes.
4. Technically, they shouldn’t be called tarantulas
While almost all large spiders are known as tarantulas, this is technically a misnomer. Tarantula only applies to one species, which is the Italian Wolf Spider, whose Latin name is Lycosa tarantula. However, as this spider had such a fearsome reputation when the settlers began to move around and discover other large spiders, the name tarantula was used to describe all of them. What people nowadays call tarantulas should instead be called ‘Theraphosids’, meaning ‘eating spiders’.
5. Tarantulas moult, and can even replace their internal organs
Throughout their lifespan, many tarantulas will moult. This means that they shed their hard exoskeleton when they outgrow it and form a new hard casing for their bigger body. During the process, the spider detaches itself from its old exoskeleton, leaving it extremely weak and vulnerable; the hardening process for the new casing will take anywhere between one hour and one week depending upon the species. During this process, tarantulas can even replace their internal organs if one is damaged or regrow a limb.
6. Most tarantulas have a varied diet
Although tarantulas have a reputation for eating birds, probably due to the size and fear attached to the ‘Goliath birdeater’, which is also the largest spider in the world by mass, the vast majority of tarantulas live off a diet of whatever small insects they can find. Some larger species have been known to eat snakes, frogs, and mice, although this is often more out of convenience and necessity than these creatures being a tarantula’s natural prey. Tarantulas are ambush predators, meaning they lie in wait for their food, attack it when it gets within range, and attempt to kill it as quickly as possible using their venom.
7. Tarantulas turn their prey into soup before eating
As with all members of the arachnid class, which includes scorpions and ticks, the internal intestines of tarantulas are too narrow to deal with solid food. As such, they use strong digestive chemicals to break down their prey into a soup like substance, which tarantulas then suck up. Therefore, it can be said that tarantulas dissolve their prey and drink them, rather than actually eating them.