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Dominican Republic Tarantulas

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The name tarantula is believed to have originated in the town of Taranto, Italy where as early as the 14th century a frenzied dance called the tarantella was believed to cure the dancers of the “deadly” bite of the spider. In fact the venom of these creatures does not have a high toxicity rate to humans and though there are dangerous venomous spiders that resemble tarantulas they are actually not one of the family Theraphosidae. The Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria nigriveneter) and the Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) are both aggressive and highly venomous and would fall into this category. Throughout the world over 800 species of tarantulas have been identified so far. Their size can vary between one inch to twelve inches and the largest species is probably the Goliath birdeater (Theraphsa blondi) found in Brazil and Venezuela. Size is determined by legspan, from tip to tip, back to front on the same side, and imagine if you will, 12 inches!

The largest species in the Dominican Republic are the Citharacantus and the Phormictopus cancerides) commonly called the Hispaniolan Giant Tarantula. They hide during the day under deadfall, rocks and debris and come out at night to look for prey. Their fangs which are located on the underside of their body are quite formidable at more than 2 centimeters long, and when they pierce the body of its victim, venom is injected which paralyzes and breaks down the body tissue of the prey, allowing the tarantula to suck up the liquefied insides. As these species are terrestrial or ground dwelling creatures, their diet mainly consists of insects such as crickets, cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers, lizards, and other smaller spiders. There are other types of tarantulas that are arboreal or tree dwelling that will also ‘dine’ on flying insects.

Tarantulas are arachnids, not insects, and also include scorpions, mites, and other spiders. The most visible difference to the untrained eye is that insects have three pairs of legs (6 legs) and spiders have four pairs, or 8 legs. Insects also have three body divisions (head, thorax, abdomen) whereas arachnids have only two (cephalothorax and abdomen). Tarantulas also have a pair of “pedipalps” which are appendages at the front of their body that resemble short legs, and which lead some people to think they have seen a 10-legged spider, which of course they have not. These pedipalps are used as feelers and in the male are also used in the reproductive process, to transfer sperm to the female.

Depending on the species, tarantulas will reach maturity from 2 to 5 years. Females live longer than males, and in captivity have been recorded to reach up to 30 years, assuming they are in a well cared for environment. The lifespan of the male is much shorter, up to around 5 years and again if they are well cared for. Possibly one of the reasons that the females outlive the males is that they continue molting after maturity which enables them to regenerate injured or lost appendages. It also gives them basically a new body in which to grow and rid of any sickness they may have carried on the old exoskeleton. Males do not go through the molting process after they have reached maturity and therefore do not have the opportunity to rejuvenate themselves. A molting tarantula does so lying on its back, which is the only thing they do in this position (they die on their front with their legs curled under their bodies). Therefore if you have one as a pet and see it in this position, do not disturb it during this process which normally takes a few hours or longer, and also do not handle for at least a few days afterward to give the new exoskeleton ample time to harden.

Once the male has reached maturity he is ready to mate and will go in search of the female. Depending on the species and location, mating season can happen during varying months of the year. In the Dominican Republic this usually occurs in the early fall months of September/October which is a good time to spot them, especially in the countryside and almost always at night. Mating can be a bit tricky for the male tarantula and is another process that can definitely shorten his lifespan! First the male has to weave a flat mat-like surface on which he rubs his abdomen to deposit the sperm that he then will absorb into his pedipalps. Once a receptive female has been encountered he will do a little vibrating his legs and dipping his abdomen until she acknowledges his advances. Now comes the good part. The male has to position the female up on her back legs (basically lifting her) in order to expose the epigastric furrow where he will release the sperm. This, naturally, also exposes her fangs which he has to veeerrry quickly pin to her body, by way of a pair of hook-like claws (called tibial spurs) located just below the “knee-joint” of his two front legs. This having been accomplished and sperm successfully transferred he will then, as you can no doubt relate, make a hasty retreat! The female will lay from 50 to over 1000 eggs which she will guard in the egg sac for the 6 week gestation period.

With the exception of a few species mainly in South America, tarantulas are generally docile and non-aggressive towards humans. If threatened however they can bite or “throw” or flick off urticating (stinging) hairs that they carry on the back of their abdomen. These are extremely irritating if they become embedded in the skin and will cause rash and itching. Though not all species of tarantulas carry these protective hairs, if a predator encounters them in the face while trying to attack a species that does, the hairs can obstruct the breathing passages, eyes, and mucous membranes. Snakes, some rodents, and spider-eating birds are among the tarantula’s natural enemies, however their most dangerous predator is the pepsis wasp, commonly called the Tarantula Hawk. This is a very large wasp, with an iridescent blue-green body and orange-red wings that grows to about 2 inches or more in length. It will enter the tarantula nest or burrow, stinging the spider to paralyze it, then lay its eggs on the abdomen. Once the larva hatch they will feed on the live, paralyzed tarantula until it expires.

For those of you that like little furry fuzzy creatures, tarantulas are a great pet. (did I say “little?!) Imagine, don’t have to feel guilty if you stayed too late at the bar, don’t have to buy a leash for them, don’t have to walk them, they don’t jump on the bed, don’t have to brush them, don’t get fleas, don’t get ticks, in fact they are very clean. There are of course many species to chose from however general opinion has it that the best pets are the Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula, (Brachypelma smithi), the Mexican Blond (Aphonopelma chalcodes), the Chilean Rose-Hair (Grammastola rosea), the Honduran Curly-Hair (Grammastola albopilosum), the Chaco Golden-Knee (Grammastola aureostriatum), and the Brazilian Black Tarantula. The largest of these are the Chaco Golden-Knee and the Brazilian Black at 7 to 8 inches or more! They are all known for their gentle and docile temperament. Make sure you go to a reputable pet store, do your research into the care, feeding, handling, housing, habitat, behavior of your new pet, and enjoy!! (and freak out your friends!!).
Read 17684 times Last modified on Saturday, 23 September 2006 01:04
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