Over the past twenty or so years tarantulas and other arachnids such as scorpions and hermit crabs, have become one of the fastest growing pets around. It has become quite a hobby to maintain and care for these exotic animals, but very few of us who purchase these animals actually know what they are getting themselves into, this simple article is to go over the very basics of tarantulas and what they are all about and to help dispel some of the myths and dogma that may surround them.
Tarantulas are arachnids, this means, unlike insects, they have eight legs instead of six and their bodies are divide into two parts (also known as segments) instead of three. Unlike other arachnids however, spiders have several adaptations that make them uniquely special! Like the ability to create and produce silk.
To complicate things further tarantulas aren’t what we hobbyists like to call “true” spiders, there are a few differences which separate the two, Araneomorphs (true spiders) and Mygalomorphs (your tarantulas).
Mygalomorphs have fangs that move up and down, while true spiders’ fangs open outwards and inwards. Although hard to notice, mygalomorphs have two claws or adheasive tufts on each pretarsus, mygalomorphs also have two sets of lungs and the venom sacs are entirely located in their chelcerae, whereas in Araneomorphs you’ll actually find them located in their cephalothorax. So enough with scientific talk, what this all means to the common folk is that despite common misconceptions, tarantulas cannot be classified (scientifically speaking) as a true spider.
Tarantulas are often divided into two categories, terrestrial and arboreal tarantulas, and are further classified (depending on where they are located) as either a New World Tarantula or an Old World Tarantula.
In general, New World tarantulas are your most commonly found tarantulas in local pet stores and are often the types of tarantulas that hobbyists recommend for those just starting out. This is because New World tarantulas are often much more docile, aren’t nearly as quick, and their are less likely to bite. In fact, most New World tarantulas are more common to defend themselves by kicking up irritating hairs from their abdomens (these hairs are known as urticating hairs). New World tarantulas are located or found in the Americas and common species of New World tarantulas, although not limited to, are the Chilean Rose Hair (Grammostola rosea), Mexican Red-kneed (Brachypelma smithi) and the Pink Toed (Avicularia avicularia).
Old World tarantulas are much different than their New World cousins, they are often much more colourful (signalling to their enemies that they are dangerous), they are often much more defensive (more prone to bite), and extremely agile whereas most New World tarantulas tend be slow and sluggish. Those involved in the hobby often recommend Old World tarantulas to those more experienced, not only because they are often swift, agile and more prone to attack, it is also because of their habitual needs is often much more extensive than those tarantulas in the New World category. Old World tarantulas are found anywhere in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Common species of Old World spiders include the Blue Cobalt (Haplopelma lividum), the Baboon (Pterinochilus murinus), and the Chinese Bird (Haplopelma schmidti).
Earlier we threw around the terms “arboreal” and “terrestrial” this simply refers to those tarantulas who often climb and live in high places (arboreal) and those tarantulas who wander on the ground and rarely scale the sides of their enclosures (terrestrial). Both New World and Old World have a variety of selections of arboreal and terrestrial tarantulas.
Despite popular demonisation of tarantulas as dangerous pets it’s grossly exaggerated by those who know very little to nothing about these animals. Most tarantulas are very quick to get away from a stressful situation, choosing to run rather to stand and fight as their first option, and will often choose other forms of defence to ward off predators, resorting only to biting as a last resort. The toxicity of a tarantula bite various greatly from person to person, in general those who are allergic to spiders will often have a much more severe reaction than someone who isn’t.
Common reactions to a tarantula bite include, but isn’t excluded to; swelling, itching, tingling, vomiting, nausea, cramps, fatigue and fever.
We, and this also include the hobbyists, always recommend that if you are bit by your tarantula for the first time to go to the hospital, it isn’t because the venom is going to kill you, it is because by going to the doctors’ you are able to figure out exactly how the venom effects you and what exactly it is doing to you. A smart owner of a pet tarantula should never handle their animal, they do not require our attention and if anything causes stress to the tarantula been handled. The potency of the tarantula venom isn’t strong enough to kill an adult human being.
In here so ends the basics of tarantulas, in the following articles that follow topics of tarantulas, we will discuss common species of tarantulas and their proper care and husbandry, various products, what to expect, the handling (when, ifs and hows) of your tarantula, what to look for when you are going to buy a tarantula and diseases and illnesses that are common to most tarantula species.