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Live from BugFest – Tarantulas: Terrible or Terrific?

September 16, 2017

 By Aleena Islam and Olivia Slack, Teen Newsroom producers.

A 2015 molt from the Brazilian black tarantula that resides in the Museum's Living Conservatory.

A 2015 molt from the Brazilian black tarantula that resides in the Museum’s Living Conservatory. Photo by Aleena Islam.

What do you think of when you hear “tarantula?” For most of us, we see an image of a hairy, fanged movie monster rising up from the depths to bite you. But tarantulas may not be quite as terrifying as they seem, says Andy Kauffman, Curator of the Living Conservatory at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “It’s true that all spiders are mildly venomous, but the tarantulas that live in the Americas only bite as a last resort; even if they did bite, most spider bites are only comparable to a bee sting,” he says. According to Kauffman, tarantulas also have some amazing adaptations that make them totally unique from other spiders. Those creepy hairs that cover tarantulas’ bodies actually serve a great purpose: sensing when prey is nearby. The hairs are so sensitive that they can detect movement on the ground, alerting the spider that a potential meal is coming.

Andy Kauffman holds tarantula molts

Andy Kauffman, Curator of the Living Conservatory, holding a whole bucket of tarantula molts. Photo by Olivia Slack

A bucket of tarantula molts

A bucket of tarantula molts. Photo by Olivia Slack.

So, what should you do if you see a tarantula in the wild? Well, first of all, you probably won’t see a wild tarantula in North Carolina. Although tarantulas are widespread in the tropics, they hardly ever venture this far north, with the top of their range being around the state of Arkansas. If you were to see one, though, then it would most likely be a male tarantula looking for a female mate. While females can live up to 30 years in some species, the males usually only live a couple of years at most, and their sole wish is to find a nice lady tarantula. The females usually stay underground in their burrows, waiting to ambush their prey. That’s one way they differ from other spiders: you won’t see a tarantula web strung between two trees. If you were to find a tarantula, the spider would probably scurry right away, sure that you were going to try to eat it!

Live tarantula

Tarantulas come in all sorts of colors, including orange, black, brown, and blue. Photo by Olivia Slack.

These are only some of the many amazing facts about tarantulas, and there’s much more to see and learn at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ BugFest! Come down to the Museum to check out all the creepy critters, ranging from tarantulas to dragonflies.

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