Tarantula and man's hand

This photograph shows the size of this tarantula relative to a man's hand.

Desert Duets: Desert Tarantula Info Web Page

Information about Desert Tarantulas

Did you know that the tarantula spider was named for a dance? In the 1300s, there was a law against dancing in the town of Taranto, Italy. The peasants loved to dance so they made up an excuse to break the law. They claimed they had been bitten by a spider and had to dance in order to sweat out the spider's deadly venom. This dance became known as the "tarantella." Eventually, the name of the dance became the spider's name as well.

Although the venom of the tarantula is not dangerous to humans, the large size and hairiness of this shy and peaceful spider has made it a target of fear and misunderstanding. There are over 700 species of tarantulas in the world. In the Southwest, there are 30 species that range in color from light tan to black. The tarantula's bite is not poisonous and feels much like a bee sting. They make good pets because they live long and have fascinating habits.

Desert tarantulas' bodies are about three inches long and when they spread their legs, they are about five inches long. They are large spiders! Their hairy bodies are one of their most distinguishing features. They detect their prey with hairs that pick up vibrations on the ground and in the air. Tarantulas have special barbed hairs on their abdomen. When they rub those hairs with their back legs, the hairs shoot out and irritate the skin and eyes of their predators.

With their fangs and pedipalps that look like two extra legs, they dig their burrows into hillsides and under rocks. Tarantulas hunt at night. They eat insects such as beetles and grasshoppers. They use their fangs to grab their prey. Like black widow spiders, they inject venom inside their prey and suck out the liquid. Then, they crush their victims with their jaws. While other spiders' jaws move side to side, tarantulas' jaws open up and down.

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Launched: February 2008
Updated: 31 July 2009