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Everything you should know about tarantulas

People fear spiders and there are few spiders that create an aura of fear more than the tarantula. Most of this is due to myths, misinformation, and Hollywood using the large, colorful, hairy spiders as villains in a number of movies and TV shows over the years.

Tarantulas are plentiful in areas of California and Arizona, but most residents may not see them until mating season comes and the males start wandering. These large arachnids provoke a kind of primal fear that is, in most ways, unjustified. Here at Western Exterminator we regularly get calls about tarantula removal and prevention as they can find their way into homes and businesses.

Here, we discuss everything you need to know about tarantulas so you can find answers to your tarantula questions. If you have a problem with tarantulas, other spiders, or other pests, contact your local Western Exterminator office.

Click on one of the questions below to be taken right to the answer.

Basic tarantula facts

Tarantula myths

Tarantulas in the home and getting rid of tarantulas

Basic tarantula facts

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What do tarantulas look like?

There are a wide variety of tarantula species located around the world. The vast majority of tarantulas live in Central and South American jungles, but there are a few that make California and North America their home. There are a lot of tarantula species and they all look different.

Tarantulas are the largest arachnids on the planet. They are all defined by the fact they are covered in hair and quite big. The majority of them are black or brown in color, but they can range in size from 7 to 10 centimeters in length all the way up to the largest spider on earth (Goliath Bird Eater) which is 30 cm in length.

While many species of spiders have colorful stripes along their legs, tarantula spiders can be colored all manner of patterns. Some of the most famous tarantula species include the Red-Knee tarantula and the Red-Rump tarantula, both native to Mexico. Then there is the Cobalt Blue tarantula from Myanmar. The fact that tarantulas come in so many colors and sizes have made them very popular in the exotic pet market.

Tarantula body sections

Like all spiders, tarantulas have eight legs and a very strong exoskeleton that, due to their size, is probably easier to see than on smaller spiders. Their body parts are separated into two segments: the prosoma (cephalothorax) and the abdomen, which is also known as the opisthosoma. The two segments are joined by a portion of the body known as the pedicle, but often just referred to as the “waist.”

Tarantulas, like all spiders, also have fangs (pedipalps). This is where they release venom when hunting and finding food. Since tarantulas are large, their fangs are often more prominent and easy to see than other species of spider. Like other spiders, tarantulas have eight eyes grouped together in pairs. Usually, there are two larger eyes in the middle of their head and these are surrounded by three eyes on either side.

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What do baby tarantulas look like?

Baby tarantulas do not look all that different than their parents. They are just smaller. They may have stripes and when they first hatch, might be very dark in color. It’s not long before baby tarantulas molt and are soon hairy, with colorful stripes and other markings just like the adult versions.

Tarantulas, like other spiders, lay an egg sac that can contain many, many spiderlings. The eggs hatch and potentially hundreds of baby spiders crawl out and immediately set out on their own.

Where do tarantulas live in the U.S.?

Tarantulas can live anywhere, but usually as pets. Tarantulas prefer warmer, drier, climates over areas that get colder and wetter during periods of the year. This means, in the United States, tarantulas are found in states like California, Arizona and Texas. Most of the time they are found the desert regions of these states, but they have been known to wander into homes, particularly during mating season.

Where do tarantulas live?

Tarantulas primarily live in the warmer areas of the world. They are most prominent in Central and South America. However, there are also species of tarantula found in some Asian countries, such as the Cobalt Blue tarantula native of Myanmar.

Tarantulas in the United States prefer to live in the desert areas of states in the Southwest such as Texas, Arizona and parts of California.

As for the specific places tarantulas live, it can be varied based on the species and the environment in which they live. However, the vast majority of tarantula species live in burrows which they dig using their fangs and fore-legs or they use abandoned burrows from other spiders. However, some species of tarantula use funnel-shaped webs in trees.

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Where do tarantulas hide?

Tarantulas are burrowing spiders. Most of the time, tarantulas in the United States live underground in burrows. They will dig burrows themselves, using their fangs, or will borrow an abandoned burrow. When not in their burrows, they hide anywhere they can find a place to stay out of the line of sight of potential predators. However, during mating season, the male tarantulas tend to get very bold and can often be found out walking around in the daylight.

Tarantulas are also usually nocturnal. This means they hunt at night, primarily, and they actually have to hunt their prey as they do not make webs for insects to get trapped in like other spiders.

How do tarantulas move?

Tarantulas have eight legs just like other spiders, and they use them to propel themselves forward. They have tiny claws on the ends of their legs that allow them to climb and cling to walls and ceilings, but most species of tarantula are ground dwellers and even live in burrows beneath the ground.

Tarantulas coordinate their movements among their eight legs. Their first and third legs on one side of their body will move and the exact same time, on the other side of their body, their second and fourth legs move. This propels them forward in the characteristic slow, plodding way they have often been seen walking.

Due to the way the muscles are arranged in the tarantula’s legs, their legs are usually bent at the leg joints. In order to extend their legs, tarantulas increase the pressure of a fluid within their body called hemolymph which allows the legs to extend.

Are tarantulas fast?

Tarantulas can move quite quickly when they want to. Most of the time, however, tarantulas move in a very slow, plodding sort of way. This is because tarantulas do not have very good eyesight and sense the world through vibrations they pick up via their legs and hairs on their body. Moving slowly allows them to sense the world around them more easily.

Tarantulas tend to move more quickly during the warmer months. If they are threatened, they will also move very quickly to get away from the threat. However, studies have shown that when the tarantula moves faster, they tend to lose their coordination. They may stumble a bit or appear to move almost in a drunken fashion as they dash to get away.

Do tarantulas make webs? What does a tarantula web look like?

Tarantulas do not make webs in the way you think of other spiders. If you imagine a giant cliched spider web like in the movies with a giant, hairy, colorful, tarantula in the center of it, you would be disappointed.

Tarantulas build burrows. When they hunt, they go out and pounce upon prey rather than trapping them in their webs. They do not build webs, although they do still spin spider silk.

Tarantulas use their spider silk to line portions of their burrows. They also use them to make doors within those burrows so they can effectively hide in them from predators.

There are some species of spider in the world that live in trees and they will make funnel-shaped webs to live in and then live within the center of it, but other than that, a tarantula spider web has no shape because they don’t make them. If you were to run into a tarantula burrow, however, you could very likely see the spider silk they have used to line their home.

What do tarantulas eat? How do tarantulas hunt? How do tarantulas catch their prey?

Tarantulas, like most species of spider, prefer to eat insects. The number of potential prey that falls into the wheelhouse of a tarantula is very wide and varied. Preferred insects tarantulas dine upon include:

  • Grasshoppers
  • Cicadas
  • Beetles
  • Caterpillars
  • Sow bugs (AKA: pill bugs, woodlice, roly-poly)

However, since tarantulas are quite large and some of them are so big (e.g., Goliath Birdeater) they can eat other prey outside of the insect world. This includes:

Since tarantulas do not spin webs to trap their prey, they have to leave their burrows and hunt. They do this by being sneaky, although some species of tarantula will leave a very small, thin line of spider silk trailing outside of their burrow to act a bit like a tripwire to alert them prey is there.

Tarantulas will simply go hunting at night. They are very slow and deliberate, feeling vibrations of potential prey through their feet and the hairs on their body. When prey is detected, they move fast and literally pounce on them. Tarantulas grab the prey with their front legs and bite it to inject venom that paralyzes their meal. They will then use their fangs to kill the prey and inject digestive enzymes that turn the prey into liquid so they can eat (tarantulas cannot eat solid food). Some of them are so strong, their jaws can kill prey without even needed to paralyze them.

Do tarantulas bite?

The short answer is: yes, tarantulas bite. All spiders bite when they are hunting their prey and they do so to inject venom into their prey, paralyze it and then to inject digestive enzymes so they can consume the food.

Do tarantulas bite people? The answer to that question is – possibly. Tarantulas have a fearsome reputation, and that may be something you would need to worry about if you are a cricket or grasshopper, but not a person. Humans are bigger than even the biggest tarantula and they would much rather run away and flick their hairs at potential predators than bite them.

If absolutely cornered and without any way to retreat from a person, a tarantula might bite. They have very large fangs (they are large spiders, so it stands to reason) and the bite itself might hurt. However, tarantulas are well known for giving “dry bites” where they bite to hurt and then get away, but not to inject venom. For most people, a tarantula bite is akin to a bee sting in terms of pain levels.

Of course, those sensitive to insect bites and stings might have an allergic reaction and anyone who is bitten by any spider should probably seek medical attention just to be safe.

Are tarantulas poisonous? What tarantulas are poisonous?

The real way to phrase this is: are tarantulas venomous? Tarantulas themselves are not poisonous, but they do contain venom glands and inject venom into their prey through their fangs. All species of tarantula are venomous and contain venom and they use it primarily for hunting prey.

This does not mean people are at high risk of being envenomed by tarantulas. They often just give dry bites to people if they are cornered which hurt, but do not inject venom. Tarantulas use their venom and venom glands to paralyze prey so they can then inject digestive enzymes and consume their prey.

It must be stated that the average, healthy, adult human does not really need to worry about tarantulas. Tarantulas are not hunting people, do not want to bite people. The chances of a human being poisoned by tarantula venom are extremely rare.

When do tarantulas mate? How do tarantulas reproduce?

Tarantulas have a mating season just like most animals do. For tarantulas, the urge and need to mate come in the fall and they become most active during the months of September and October. Of course, there are variations year after year and sometimes they come out earlier or later than other times.

Tarantula males are the one who goes out looking for mates. Females will usually stay in their burrows and wait for a mate to find them. So, if you are out in your yard or hiking somewhere and you see a tarantula walking around in the daytime, it is most likely a male out looking for a mate.

Male tarantulas are territorial, until mating season. This is when the males head out in search of a mate and they have been known to travel quite a ways to find a female. This is when exterminators get the most phone calls about tarantulas because homeowners are most likely to see tarantulas in larger numbers during this time of year.

Males create a ball of webbing upon which they deposit a small amount of sperm. They then carry this ball in their pedipalps as they go wandering for a female. When they find a female’s burrow, they will tap on the silk lining of the female’s burrow to get her attention. The male is known to engage in a rather elaborate mating display (a dance, if you will) and mating rituals. If the female is receptive, the sperm will be deposited and the male will try to get out of there as fast as possible. Most males, even if they are not eaten by the females, die a short time after reproduction.

Once the eggs have been fertilized, the female will lay an egg sac within a silk pouch resembling a cocoon. After a certain amount of time, the egg sac will burst open and the spiderlings will emerge.

Where do tarantulas lay their eggs?

Female tarantulas can lay an egg sac containing anywhere from two to more than 100 eggs. They lay them within their burrows and they line an area with their silk. They then deposit the eggs there and will cover it with more spider silk to truly make it an egg sac. She will then guard the eggs until they hatch.

When do tarantulas come out during the year?

Tarantulas, particularly North American tarantulas, are generally not aggressive and prefer to hide, make threat postures and run away from people than confront them. So, they hide for most of the year. They hide in their underground burrows or will use logs or other places as out of the way as possible. Coming out into the open during the day not only puts them into contact with people who are more likely to squash them than move them out of the way, but also predators like the Tarantula Hawk Wasp and other creatures which eat them.

So, tarantulas come out when it’s mating season. The instinctive need to mate and procreate overpowers almost all of the male tarantula’s self-preservation instincts and this is when you might find them on hiking trails, sidewalks, backyards, sides of houses or other highly populated areas.

As for non-mating-season times, tarantulas are night hunters. They can sometimes be seen a dusk or at night. They are not looking for people, but for insects and small animals, they can feast upon.

Do tarantulas shed their skin? Why do tarantulas molt?

Yes, as tarantulas grow, they shed their skin. You may have heard about this in lizards and snakes, but did not realize most species of spiders do it, too. This is known as “molting” which is a term you may also have heard associated with birds.

Tarantula molting is a very strenuous process for the spider. They must do it in order to grow. Often, for people who like to keep tarantulas as pets, they know molting time is coming when their spider refuses to eat and seems almost lethargic. Fluid can become evident around the leg joints or loose hairs around the abdomen. The tarantula will then lie on its back when it is ready to molt and sometimes there will be webbing evident.

In a few minutes to a few hours, the tarantula will right itself and have brand new skin and hairs and the shed skin will be left behind. For the tarantula, that new skin will be very sensitive for a while.

The molting process can be amazing and regenerative for the tarantula. For example, there have been spiders who have lost a leg or part of a leg only to regrow it during the molting process.

How do you handle a tarantula?

Whenever possible, tarantulas should not be handled. Even pet tarantulas should not be handled if at all possible, although fans of spiders as pets often handle them anyway. A tarantula does not recognize its handler and often considers people as threats, so the chance of having hairs flung into your face or a bite delivered will always be there.

If you absolutely must pick up and move a tarantula, the best way is to:

  • Grasp them between their second and third legs. Hold them firmly, but not too hard. If you pick them up quickly, this allows them to react instinctively and that means they will become stiff and not move.
  • Once you have a tarantula in your hands, keep it in the palm of your hand and do not drop it if you can help it. Dropping a tarantula can kill it.
  • If you need to move a tarantula you can do so without touching it. Using a container and a long stick or spoon can move the spider. You can scoop the spider into the spoon and deposit into a container and then move it using the container.
  • If you want to move the spider a certain way, gently rubbing the spider’s abdomen from the opposite direction you want it to move will work. For example, if you want it to move forward, rub it gently with the spoon or long stick on the rear of its abdomen.
  • Finally, if you just have too many tarantulas around, you can contact a professional tarantula specialist to come deal with them and not have to worry about handling them at all.
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Tarantula myths

 

What tarantulas don’t bite?

There are a couple of myths about tarantulas biting. One of them, and probably the best known of the tarantula bite myths is that all of them bite and that their bites are deadly and dangerous to people. That’s not true. The other, counter-intuitively, is that there are species of tarantula that do not bite.

All species of tarantula bite. However, they do not like to bite people. It cannot be stressed enough that tarantulas will only bite a person as a very last resort. Although there are some spiders that tend to be bad-tempered and more aggressive than others, even those prefer to run away than bite.

However, tarantulas have fangs and venom and have to bite in order to feed.  In fact, tarantulas have very strong jaws and many of them can kill their prey just with the strength of their bite alone. In some instances, such as with the Cobalt Blue Tarantula, they can be aggressive and more willing to bite than others. In North America, most tarantulas are fairly docile.

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Why don’t tarantulas bite?

Tarantulas are more likely to run away from potential threats than bite. North American and other species of tarantula have another defense known as urticating hairs on their abdomen. They use the tiny hooks on their feet to loosen the hairs and pull them out and then fling them back at whatever is pursuing or threatening them. They have pretty decent aim, too, and the hairs can be very irritating. For dogs and animals sniffing around, these hairs can be stuck in their noses, eyes and mucous membranes. They can get into the face, hands and eyes of humans and also be irritating.

The reason tarantulas prefer not to bite is that, first, they are shy and would rather run away. Second, they do not want to use their venom except for something they can eat and humans are too big for them to use as food. As such, they will run away or use the hairs rather than bite.

First, tarantulas will indicate they are feeling threatened, too. They will raise up their front legs, leaning back on the back two legs, and raise their forelegs high into the air. This shows off their fangs, makes them appear larger and gives a clear sign they are in distress and want whatever is there to back off. Some species can also rub the hairs on their abdomen and make a kind of hissing sound to indicate they might be a threat.

Are tarantulas dangerous?

If you are an insect like a grasshopper or a caterpillar, then a tarantula is certainly something for you to fear. However, if you happen to live in California, Arizona or areas in North America where tarantulas live, you have very little to worry about with tarantulas.

Of course, there are aggressive tarantula species out there. One of the most famous is the Cobalt Blue Tarantula from Asia. They are popular among pet spider fans, because of their amazing blue coloring, but also famous for their ill temper and aggressive nature.

However, unless you are bringing Cobalt Blue tarantulas into your home, you have little to worry about unless you handle them. If you leave a tarantula alone, they have no desire to attack people. Tarantulas prefer to run away from people and are more interested in finding food like insects and small animals.

Of course, people who are allergic to insect bites or insect stings should always take precautions. If you have been bitten by a tarantula, you should seek medical attention if you feel any symptoms that might indicate an allergic reaction. This is true of any spider or insect sting or bite.

When do tarantulas attack?

Tarantulas hunt mostly at night. So, if you are looking to see them, you are more likely to find them out and about around your home or in areas where tarantulas are plentiful at night. For insects that they prefer to feed on, they feed at night.

As for when do tarantulas attack people? Well, the answer to that is more complicated. It takes a lot to get your average California or North American tarantula species to get them to attack. Tarantulas do not leave their burrows or hiding places looking for people. There’s no point in hunting people as we are too big for them to eat and too big a threat.

A tarantula attack will likely only happen if the person corners or handles the tarantula. However, even then there are a lot of steps before a tarantula will attempt to bite someone.

First, tarantulas will attempt to run away from a potential threat. If that doesn’t work, they will likely rear up on their back legs, holding their front legs high into the air and revealing their fangs in a threat posture. Usually, given their size and the size of their fangs, this is enough to deter a threat.

Tarantulas use hairs as a defense mechanism

If not, they can turn around and use their back legs to pull the short, bristled hairs out of their abdomen and then use the hooks on the ends of their feet to fling those hairs at the threat.

These hairs are nothing to take likely. Known as urticating hairs, they are short, sticky and irritating. If you were to get urticating hairs in your eye, it would be very irritating and painful. If you were a dog or other animal and get them in your sensitive nasal cavity or mucous membranes, this would usually be enough to deter anyone and send them running.

What is the deadliest tarantula?

All tarantulas are deadly to the insects and small animals upon which they prey. It is a myth that tarantulas are deadly to humans. Although tarantulas can act aggressively and may bite or threaten someone, even the notoriously bad-tempered Cobalt Blue Tarantula is not usually deadly to people.

That being said, anyone bitten by any species of tarantula, should take precautions and seek medical attention if they are concerned or experience allergic reactions.

There are a number of large spiders that resemble tarantulas that are very dangerous to people. They are confused for tarantulas by people, which helps perpetuate the myth that tarantulas are deadly.

Tarantula Look-a-Likes: Brazilian Wandering Spider & Sydney Funnel Web Spider

For example, the Brazilian Wandering Spider is often listed as the deadliest spider in the world. The Brazilian Wandering spider is large and has a hairy body and legs, which is why it resembles a tarantula. The venom of a Brazilian Wandering spider is very toxic and can be harmful to people. They are also referred to as Banana Spiders because one of their favorite places to hide is within bunches of bananas and can end up inside a person’s home by hitching a ride on imported bananas.

The Sydney Funnel Web Spider is also a large hairy spider from Australia and is often confused with a tarantula. They are feared and have been traced back to deaths of humans – mostly children. They end up in swimming pool filters a lot and people stumble across them. They are very aggressive, have exceedingly large fangs and, unlike other large spiders, are known not only for the toxicity of their venom, but their willingness to inject a large amount of venom into people. Plus, they are so ill-tempered they are known to bite people repeatedly.

However, the two examples above are not actually tarantulas. Most of the time, the people who need to worry most about tarantula bites are those who import tarantulas from around the world to keep as pets. For example, the  Indian ornamental tree spider (Poecilotheria regalis) is popular among spider enthusiasts because of its color, but it packs a potent venom if you provoke it enough to bite.

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What happens if a tarantula bites you?

If you are bitten by a tarantula, you are likely to know it. It takes a lot to get bitten by a North American tarantula, in particular. You would probably need to be handling or provoking the spider to get it to bite anyway. They do not usually sneak up on people or pounce on them to bite.

However, if you have been bitten, the bite will likely feel a lot like a bee sting. There will be pain in the bite area and given how large a tarantula’s fangs are, the pain can be pretty intense. There will probably be some bleeding from the puncture wounds. The bite will likely swell, much like a bee sting, and be very red.

It is rare for a North American tarantula to inject venom. However, if they do, the species located in the U.S. tends to have very weak venom. You might feel some dizziness or nausea from the venom of a tarantula.

Of course, it is possible a person could have an allergic reaction to a tarantula bite. Muscle spasms, feeling short of breath, breaking out into hives, redness and swelling that spreads well beyond the bite area could all be indications of an allergic reaction. The treatment will be similar to that of someone allergic to bee stings and medical attention should be sought. If at all possible, bringing the spider that did the biting with to the emergency room can help doctors find the right treatment.

Can tarantulas kill you?

The truth of the matter is that it is very, very unlikely that a death due to a spider bite will have come from a tarantula. There are other spiders that tend to be much riskier to a person’s health such as a brown recluse spider or even a black widow.

All that being said, can we say with 100% certainty that there will never and has never been a death due to a tarantula bite? No, of course not. There is often no way to know how a person will react to a tarantula bite until they are bitten. People can have very severe allergic reactions to insect and arachnid bites. Most famously, there are people who can be allergic to bee stings. Those same people could possibly be allergic to other bites and this could include tarantulas.

More than likely if you have a bite from a spider resembling a tarantula such as a Brazilian Wandering Spider or the Sydney Funnel-Web Spider, then you really need to worry. Both of those spiders have been linked definitively to deaths in humans. They look a lot like tarantulas, so it can be confusing.

Anyone bitten, however, should seek medical treatment just to be safe.

Can tarantulas hurt people in other ways besides biting?

It is possible for a tarantula to hurt someone without biting them. There are species of tarantula that have urticating hairs on their abdomen. In fact, for some species of tarantula, this is their preferred way to deterring predators. What they can do is rub their abdomen and remove these hairs from their bodies. They can then use their back legs to kick and fling those hairs at the potential threat.

Nature has made the urticating hairs stick and irritating. Tarantulas are good at getting these hairs into the eyes and face of whatever is threatening them. The hairs will stick to moist surfaces such as eyes, noses and mouths and become very irritating and painful. Thus, a person can find their eyes filled with these painful hairs or their nose and areas of the face. Dogs, cats and other animals might find them in their nose or mucous membranes.

Tarantulas in the home and getting rid of tarantulas

What do tarantulas do when it gets cold?

For tarantulas, the cold is not a friend. They are generally warm-weather, tropical or desert spiders. They prefer warm, dry weather, particularly when we are talking about the North American tarantula species. When the temperature drops, the spiders will slow down, their metabolism will slow and they will try to get where it’s warm. They may hide in their burrows, but they may also seek warmth inside structures such as homes.

Low temperatures can be very severe for a tarantula. If the temperature drops too much, their body’s systems shut down, they stop moving and can die.

How do you get rid of tarantulas in the house?

Tarantulas are burrowing spiders. This means if you have seen tarantulas around your home, they are probably living underground on your property and they can be hard to find. However, when mating season comes, or at night, when they go hunting, if you have holes in doors, siding, open doors or other openings it is possible a tarantula might end up indoors and inside your home.

The best thing to get rid of tarantulas or any spiders is to contact a professional in spider removal, such as the specialist at Western Exterminator. We have the right training and equipment to safely remove tarantulas and other spiders.

However, the best way to get rid of tarantulas is to not make your property attractive to them in the first place. Keep the yard clean and free of vegetation, old logs, abandoned lawn mowers or other debris. Tarantulas are shy and will build their burrows or find hiding spaces around those types of things. Stacks of boxes, old wood, fallen trees or overgrown areas can house tarantula burrows and nests. Clean those up and trim back vegetation, remove old outer buildings like sheds or old garages.

Of course, there are some that argue tarantulas can get rid of more harmful critters like cockroaches and even rodents, so having one around might not be the worst thing. That being said, a tarantula can bite inquisitive children or pets and should be dealt with if there is even the chance of a serious risk

Contact Western Exterminator for tarantula control

Western Exterminator has been in California for decades and we are the experts in getting rid of tarantulas, spiders, rodents and other pests. If you have a spider infestation or any other pest issues, contact your local Western Exterminator today!


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