A female tarantula has a more stocky body than a male and is covered in a light brown or tan hair (thus it is sometimes called the Arizona Blond Tarantula). The male is thinner and “lankier”, with black hair covering most of the body and reddish hairs on its abdomen. Tarantulas have two body parts (the cephalothorax and the abdomen), eight walking legs and two pedipalps that are used for touching and moving prey.
Tarantulas are very sensitive to vibrations in the ground that may indicate the presence of prey or danger. They are equipped with urticating hairs on their abdomen which can be released by kicking with the back legs; these hairs irritate the nose and eyes of would-be attackers.
Tarantulas live in dry, well-drained soils in open areas throughout the desert and grassland areas. All North American tarantulas are ground-dwellers although some other species live in trees, cliffs, caves, or in crops like bananas and pineapples.
Tarantulas occur worldwide. Those in North America occur in the southern and southwestern states, with many other species occurring to the south throughout Mexico, Central and South America.
Some tarantula species are endangered because of habitat destruction and over-collection for the pet trade. Our local species is common and is not currently threatened.
Tarantulas are nocturnal hunters. They feed primarily on insects like grasshoppers, beetles, other small spiders and arthropods, and will sometimes eat small lizards. They will attempt to overcome anything of the right size that moves in their range. Most tarantulas have weak venom.
Predators of tarantulas include lizards, snakes, spider-eating birds, coyotes and foxes.
The desert tarantula lives in a deep burrow which is lined with silk webbing to prevent its caving in. The hole is enlarged as the spider grows. If suitable soil is not available an occasional individual may hide in cracks or logs.
Male tarantulas live 10 to 12 years. Females can live twice as long.
In the Sonoran Desert, tarantulas grow to a length of 3 to 4 inches (70-100 mm).
The Tarantula Hawk, a large spider wasp, searches out tarantulas and attempts to sting them. If successful, the sting paralyzes the spider. The wasp will then lay an egg on it, and seals it up in a burrow. The paralyzed spider provides “fresh meat” for the wasp grub to eat after it hatches from the egg.
Most spiders have no teeth with which to chew their food, so they rely on their venom to liquefy their prey. They then use their sucking stomachs to draw in or ’suck" up the meal.