When someone thinks of a stereotypically “scary” spider, the image of a tarantula almost always comes to mind. Surely, a tarantula is an intimidating creature, but are they everything they are cracked up to be, or is there more than meets their eight eyes?
There are many significant misconceptions when it comes to spiders and spider-like creatures. In fact, many insect-like creatures look like spiders but are something else.
Perhaps they are able to scare predators away by simply looking like a spider, or maybe they gain some other benefit from that proven effective body type.
While they may seem to be terrifying monsters that haunt our dreams, tarantulas are also popular pets.
At least, they are as popular as a hairy beast the size of a man’s hand can be! Still, it’s worthwhile to dispel some myths surrounding these frightening yet fascinating and misunderstood creatures.
Is A Tarantula A True Spider?
Whether or not a tarantula is a genuine spider is a question for anyone with an abiding curiosity about spiders, insects, and similar things.
For the average person who would never consider keeping a tarantula in their home, these animals are horrible spiders straight from the pit of Hades- end of story. But are they really?
Well, it’s a funny thing. The fact is that tarantulas actually defy categorization to some extent. They are considered to be spiders.
They are in the Theraphosidae family, which falls under the order known as “Araneae,” and that makes them spiders, technically speaking.
However, they are still not considered to be “true spiders.” It’s all a bit technical, but there’s some solid science behind it. At least, there is a reasonable explanation behind it. So let’s get into it.
Why Are Tarantulas Not Considered “True” Spiders?
To be brief, all known spiders are classified under the order known as “Araneae.” The order is divided into two subcategories known as Mesothelae and Opisthothelae.
From there, Opisthothelae spits into Mygalomorphae and Arachnomorphae. For clarity, the breakdown looks like this:
Araneae splits into Mesothelae and Opisthothelae, and Opisthothelae splits into Mygalomorphae and Arachnomorphae.
Simple, right? What we’ll find is that it’s just one simple difference that separates tarantulas from true spiders, and that is the way their “fangs” are oriented.
The important difference between Mygalomorphae and Arachnomorphae is whether their fangs cross over, point down, or point forward. Members of the Arachnomorphae subcategory have “chelicerae” fangs that point forward in a diagonal orientation that cross over each other when pinched.
In contrast, members of the Mygalomorphae subcategory bear fangs which point directly downward and which do not cross over when pinched. Our friend, the tarantula, has downward-pointing fangs that do not cross over, making it a member of the Mygalomorphae subcategory.
Tarantula Vs Spider – Nutrition And Diet
We can learn quite a bit about the nutritional needs of tarantulas by considering the size of their bodies and the orientation of their fangs. Their fangs point downward, but when they “bite” they curve backward toward the area just beneath their bodies.
This tells us that they use their size and strength to feed from a “tackle” position, while ordinary spiders bite from a “striking” position.
This is to say, a tarantula pounces literally onto its prey. Smaller spiders use their fangs like daggers, stabbing into their prey like lances. It really all comes down to their body size relative to the size of the things they prefer to eat.
The orientation of the fangs accommodates their size and not the other way around.
So, you will find that tarantulas like larger prey than other smaller spiders. Tarantulas are quite fond of Crickets, Mealworms, Superworms, Lateralis Roaches, and Dubia Roaches.
However, you’ll find that just about anything about the size of a cricket will do as long as you don’t give it something poisonous like wasps, bees, or a kissing bug (aka Assassin Bug).
Tarantula Vs Spider – Life Cycles
If you obtain your tarantula at the beginning of its life, you’ll need to know how to take care of it. They can be obtained from pet stores and online vendors.
It’s quite a bit more straightforward and simple to get an adult tarantula, but catching a wild one can prove rather challenging.
Their life cycle begins as a “Sling.” These are quite fragile and they can only be fed in a regular, prescribed manner. You’re likely to get feeding instructions if you purchase them. The next phase is the “Juvenile” stage. Juvenile tarantulas eat like smaller spiders once or twice a week.
Adult tarantulas are fed as described in the above section. Getting an immature tarantula to the adult phase is a challenge. They are hatched in large numbers, and nature does not expect most of them to survive.
This can prove to be frustrating, and buying an adult specimen might be worth the great deal of shopping around it will probably take to obtain one.
Tarantula Vs Spider – Size And Appearance
Tarantulas have a very distinctive look that’s almost impossible to mistake for any other type of spider. Compared to other spiders they appear stocky, thick, hefty, and markedly hairy.
They are light brown to dark brown in color with a dark tan thorax that has much less hair than their abdomen, legs, and forelimbs. One of the biggest areas of variation among tarantula sub-species is the color and hairiness of the thorax- which can be as described above to quite dark and hairy.
Tarantulas have larger forelimbs than other spiders. Often mistaken for legs, these are more part of its feeding system and are used to subdue and manipulate prey much more than they are ever used for locomotion.
However, if a tarantula gets into a cliffhanger situation, it will probably use these forelimbs to avoid a nasty fall.
Finally, their eyes have a particular arrangement that helps distinguish them from other spiders.
They have eight eyes; two large eyes in the middle of their heads, four relatively small eyes beneath and in front of those two large eyes, and two additional eyes- one on each side of their heads.
All spider species have a different arrangement of eyes, different numbers of eyes, and different eye sizes and colors.
Their eyes are thought to be adapted to the behavior, temperament, and hunting style of the type of spider. A very cunning researcher might be able to predict a spider’s temperament and behavior by simply looking at the arrangement of its eyes!
Tarantula Vs Spider – As A Pet
Not all tarantula sub-species are created equal when it comes to keeping them as pets. According to The Spruce Pets, the best tarantula species to keep as pets are as follows;
- Mexican Red-Knee
- Chilean Rose
- Costa Rican Zebra
- Mexican Redleg
- Honduran Curly Hair
- Pink Zebra Beauty
- Pink Toe
- Brazilian Black
- Mexican Red Rump
- Desert Blonde
What these species have in common is relatively predictable behavior, an even temperament, and manageable breeding and feeding habits.
If you intend to keep one as a pet, you should know that their bites are venomous, and while rarely deadly- a tarantula bite is painful. Only a healthy, adult person should ever risk being bitten by one.
For a beginner tarantula keeper, it’s advised to seek out either a Pink Toe or Honduran Curly Hair tarantula.
These two species are known to be relatively slow movers, ground dwelling, and- most importantly- less prone to aggression. Tree dwelling species are much faster, more agile, and more likely to escape their enclosure and bite.
Clearly, there’s a significant learning curve to be overcome to keep, handle, and care for tarantulas successfully. However, with caution, and by following expert advice, you’re very likely to succeed in your efforts to care for and enjoy these fascinating creatures!