Monday, May 26, 2003

Do Tarantulas Bite?

Tarantulas are hairy and often very large spiders. They mainly eat insects using ambush as their primary method of prey capture. The mouth of a tarantula is a short straw-shaped opening than can only suck, meaning that anything taken into it must be in liquid form. Prey must be crushed and ground up or predigested, which is accomplished by coating the prey with digestive juices that are secreted from openings in the chelicerae. Although it has eyes, a tarantula’s sense of touch is its keenest sense and in hunting it primarily depends on vibrations given off by the movements of its prey.

Regardless of their fearsome reputation, tarantulas are eaten by a range of animals, including one particular family of wasps. Besides the normal hairs covering the body of tarantulas, some also have a dense covering of irritating hairs that they sometimes use as protection against enemies. Some people are extremely sensitive to theses hairs, and develop serious itching and rashes at the site. Tarantula hair has been used as the main ingredient in the novelty item, “itching powder.”

Tarantulas may live for years—most species taking 2 to 5 years to reach adulthood, but some species may take up to 10 years to reach full maturity. Upon reaching adulthood, male typically have but a 1 to 1.5 year period left to live.

The Goliath bird eater tarantula is considered a delicacy by the indigenous Piaroa of Venezuela. Fried tarantulas are also considered a delicacy in Cambodia.

Despite their often threatening appearance and reputation, none of the true tarantulas are known to have a bite which is deadly to humans. While bites by some species are known to be very painful, most tarantula bites are no worse than a wasp sting. Most Tarantulas are harmless to humans. Some species, while not known to have ever produced human fatalities, have venom that can produce extreme discomfort over a period of several days.

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