Tarantulas are some of the most bizarre and amazing creatures that walk upon planet Earth. Despite the fact that they are relatively harmless, they unfortunately garner a bad reputation, mostly due to their appearance. Considering how they are essentially just giant spiders covered in hair, tarantulas appear to most people as little more than creepy crawlies. Furthermore, the media often portrays these arachnids as aggressive monsters rather than the amazing tarantulas that they are. But if appearances were everything, many cute animals wouldn't be this dangerous.
If you get past their rather horrific appearance, you learn that tarantulas possess all kinds of fascinating traits. Many fun facts about tarantulas reveal traits unique to this particular type of arachnid, ranging from its fragile exoskeleton to its hairy defenses. And in comparison to the other scary spiders out there, tarantulas are actually relatively peaceful, more eager to avoid you than you will them. With more than 900 species discovered across every continent but Antarctica, there is plenty to learn, and still plenty to discover, about the tarantula.
Although everyone calls pretty much all big and hairy spiders tarantulas, the truth is this word technically only applies to one species. Before Europeans expanded into the Americas, one particularly large Italian spider called the wolf spider became known as the Lycosa tarantula. It garnered such a fearsome reputation that when settlers began to move to places with even bigger and more dangerous spiders, the name tarantula stuck. Technically, what people know as tarantulas should be called Theraphosids – bird-eating spiders.
Most tarantulas go through a molting process several times during their lifespan, shedding their exoskeleton to grow in size and mature into adults. During molting, almost every part of the tarantula detaches, leaving the creature severely exposed; depending on the species, the hardening process can take only an hour or up to an entire week. The process is so dramatic it is even possible for tarantulas to replace internal organs and limbs. However, if they become stuck while leaving behind their old exoskeleton, they will almost certainly die.
Unlike the reputation built up around tarantulas as being fearsome monsters, they rarely present any danger to humans. If fact, they generally try their best to avoid any potential danger and can sense when people are near. "Most spiders can sense the heat from our bodies and will avoid us," says Dave Clarke, head of invertebrates at London Zoo. "They are not naturally very aggressive.” Even when they are forced into defending themselves, a tarantula will often only inject a tiny amount of venom or even none at all.
The lifespan of tarantulas varies significantly between different species and even sex. Unlike many other creatures, the sexual dimorphism between male and female tarantulas is severe. Most females can live for up to 30 years in the wild and can even reach 20 years of age in captivity. However, it is unusual for males to last longer than seven years at most. In fact, the vast majority of males will live to be just five-years-old.