The Birthing of P. subfusca Spiderlings
Sexing a Tarantula
I decided to compile a list frequently asked questions that we get from kids and adults alike. Many of these questions center around some of the big misconceptions that are out there regarding tarantulas. Hopefully these will help dispel some things that you may be unsure of.
“Are tarantulas poisonous/dangerous?” - The great thing about this question is that I am often asked this while I have a tarantula crawling on my hand. Now, I like some excitement in my life, but putting myself at risk is not my idea of fun. If tarantulas were dangerous, I would definitely not be impressing anyone by holding one.
First of all, if you were bitten by a tarantula (unprovoked), then congratulations – you are now a member in a very elite club. If you were bitten by a tarantula, there is a good chance that very little venom (if any) was injected. As far as being “poisonous,” all spiders, including tarantulas, have venom. While some tarantulas can possess more powerful venom than others, the reaction from a “full bite” would probably result in pain, swelling, cramping, etc., but not death.
“How big can tarantulas get?” - There are a few species of tarantula that will grow to be 9 or 10 inches, but the largest on record is the Theraphosa blondi (Goliath Birdeater), which can reach approximately one foot (12 inches) in length.
“Do they bite?” - This, of course, is asked in relation to a tarantula biting a person. I don’t like to mislead people and say that tarantulas do not, or can not bite. We know that crickets and roaches would tell you that yes, they do bite! I try to break tarantulas down into certain categories to try and help people understand.
Since there are close to 800 species of tarantulas in the world, and they come from almost every part of the planet, there are differences seen throughout them. Most tarantulas, as a general rule, will try other methods of defense prior to biting (such as running away or flicking hairs). Many tarantulas just seem to have such a docile temperament that bites are a rare occurrence. Then there are other tarantulas that are more aggressive and should never be handled, as they may have a tendency to use their fangs first and ask questions later.
“Have you ever been bitten?” - No, I haven’t. (Nor was I ever stung when I kept scorpions.) There are two reasons for this. First of all, as mentioned above, there are some species that are notoriously docile, and some that are aggressive. Guess which ones I handle and which ones I don’t? The other reason is that I take the time to read the body language of the spider. I use the analogy of a dog. If you came across a dog that was growling and snarling at you, would you reach out and give it a pat on the head? Probably not. Likewise, spiders have ways of telling you that it would be best for you to keep your distance. I will say that the tarantula keepers that I have talked to that have been bitten will readily admit that it was their fault – that they were careless about something they did.
This does not mean, “Give me a hug!”
“Can tarantulas jump?” - Ahhh, you’ve been watching “Arachnophobia,” haven’t you? Granted, I’ve heard the rumors that tarantulas can jump a few feet in the air long before that movie came out. The biggest problem is that tarantulas are very fragile, and a fall from even a few inches could injure or kill the spider. So why would a tarantula take such a dangerous leap? That is assuming that they physically CAN leap that far. Most tarantulas will “pounce” on their prey, moving a half-inch to a couple of inches forward.
With that said, there are arboreal species (tree dwellers) that can and will jump from branch to branch if necessary. If they live in trees over water, such as a brook or stream, they have been known to jump out of the tree and into the water to avoid an approaching predator. People that keep some of these arboreal species, such as the common pink toe tarantula (Avicularia avicularia), report that they will take a leap from your hand onto your chest or face – or unfortunately, the floor. (That is why you need to be careful when handling these guys!)
“Do tarantulas make webs?” - Tarantulas do not make the “typical” spider web that other spiders do. Tarantulas do produce silk, however, and they will use this silk for many different things. Some will put a layer of silk on the floor of their burrow to keep it clean, and free from ants. (Like wall to wall carpeting!) Many tarantulas will also have the entrance of their burrow lined with fine silk to notify them of visiting prey items. Others will actually built a hammock-like “fort” out of thick silk, which they will lay in during the day.
“How long do tarantulas live?” - Some tropical species of tarantula live an average of 10 to 15 years. Other species, like many of the New World terrestrial spiders, can live over 30 years (females). Compare that to the few months that many common house spiders live, and you’ll see another reason that we consider tarantulas to be amazing!
“Can more than one tarantula be kept in the same tank?” – With the exception of a couple of species that have occasionally been kept successfully in a communal tank, the answer is no. Spiders are territorial and cannibalistic. Two tarantulas in one tank will eventually equal one fat spider.
“What is the best pet tarantula?” – That would completely depend on many factors, such as your experience level with tarantulas and what you are looking for. Personally, I recomend a hardy, docile species for people’s first tarantula. Grammostola rosea (Chilean rose hair) is usually a great choice because they are inexpensive to boot. It is kind of like someone who wants to own a pet bird. I would recommend they start with a $12 parakeet before they commit to a $500 parrot. Make sure it is for you, that you can handle the responsibility, etc. However, this is one of these questions that can be answered 20 different ways by 20 different people.
The “miracle of birth” is no less miraculous when referring to our eight legged friends. I came across these photographs online and wanted very much to share them with you here. They are posted here with permission from the photographer, Pascal Lesellier (FRANCE).
The female tarantula will create an eggsac containing hundreds of tiny eggs, and guard the sac until the little ones hatch. Here we see mama Poecilotheria subfusca guarding her sac, which appears as a white ball between her front legs, and underneath her pedipalps.
Next we see that the spiders have hatched. They still look like the eggs they came from, with the exception of little legs sticking out. (Eggs with legs, their often called.)
The spiderlings begin to grow…
…molt and grow…
For those tarantulas from the New World (North, Central, and South America), hairs on their abdomen are more than just a nice fur coat. Equipped with teeny-tiny barbs on the end of these hairs, the tarantula can send hundreds of them flying through the air at once, thus warding off potential predators.
When the tarantula feels a possible threat, it can take one of its back legs and quickly rub it against it abdomen. This action released the hairs into the air, and into the eyes and nose of a predator that may be lurking nearby. The effect of these hairs is quite unpleasant, irritating the soft tissue of the unfortunate creature that got a face full of hair.
It is important, therefore, to be aware that your New World tarantulas have the ability to do this. Some will rarely flick hairs (if ever), while others will flick at the slightest invasion of their space. Some people do develop allergies to these hairs, while others do not. These are things to take into consideration when purchasing a pet tarantula.
For example, our tarantula Agatha (picture on Home page) is a Brachypelma smithi – a species that is known for flicking hairs at almost any disturbance. We were warned about this when we bought her, and she lived up to the reputation for about two days. We would open her tank to hold her, and she would give a few good flicks of her hind legs. Once in our hand, however, she was fine. (However, we had to be sure to not breath in the hairs that were still floating about.) After a couple of handling sessions, she stopped flicking hairs at us altogether. Owners of the notorious Goliath Bird Eater (Theraphosa blondi) will tell you that the shower of hairs you can get from these spiders is intense!
On an interesting side note, tarantulas from the Old World (Asia, Africa, Australia, etc.) do not have these hairs. If they cannot escape their potential predator, they will usually not hesitate to throw up a threat posture and bite, bite, bite!
Molt from an Aphonopelma seemanni.
Determining the sex of a tarantula can be one of those “can of worms” topics among some tarantula enthusiasts. Some say you can tell by looking at certain external features of the spider, but the most accurate method (and I think most would agree with this) is by looking at the molted (shed) skin of the tarantula.
Female tarantulas have small organs that store sperm after they have mated with a male. These organs are called spermathecae. If the molt of the spider is big enough (a magnifying glass or microscope may be needed), you can check for the presence of the old spermathecae – now shed by the spider. From there, it is simple:
Spermathecae = Female Tarantula
No Spermathecae = Male Tarantula
What you are looking at here is the inside of the abdomen portion of the tarantula’s molt. The four white patches are the spider’s booklungs. (They are folds of tissue that filter air, allowing the animal to breath.) In between the top pair of booklungs, you will see a groove, or slit. (It almost looks like a pair of lips.) Just above that grove, although difficult to see, is a flap with two brown spermathecae. (If you see the slit as a mouth, then the spermathecae look like the eyes.)
This Aphonopelma seemanni is a female.