There are currently about 800 described species of tarantula around the world, ranging in size from 3 to 12 inches across. Most species burrow underground; but some reside in trees, spinning tunnel-shaped homes out of silk. Male tarantulas are short-lived; most live less than 10 years. Female tarantulas can live up to 30 years, depending on the species.
The legs and abdomens of tarantulas in the Americas are covered with barbed bristles known as urticating hairs. Tarantulas can kick or rub these hairs off to mark territory or deter predators. Unlike true hair found on mammals, urticating hairs do not grow back. Instead, a tarantula gains new urticating hairs with each molt. For predators and some humans, urticating hairs can act as a deterrent, causing itching or a rash on the skin, or damage to the nose and lungs if inhaled.
The name tarantula derives from a rapid whirling dance, called the tarantella, that originated in the southern Italian seaport of Taranto. During the 15th and 16th century, bites from a large local spider were thought to cause “tarantism,” an illness where the patient danced the tarantella until he or she dropped from exhaustion. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that a bite from a tarantula spider would cause dancing, but it may cause site swelling and pain. Tarantulas have a mild venom, and in fact there are no verified cases of a human fatality from a tarantula bite.
Diet: invertebrates, small animals
Zoo Diet: invertebrates
Habitat: forests, grasslands, deserts
Weight: 1 – 6 oz.
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The Phoenix Zoo is one of the largest non-profit zoos in the U.S., caring for over 3,000 animals, with nearly 400 species represented, including many threatened/endangered species.