Spiders are one of the most interesting predators in nature. They plan well ahead of time for a meal that may not come for several hours, planning, plotting, and crafting a sophisticated and shockingly well-crafted web pattern. This will double as both the spider’s home and a trap for its unsuspecting prey.
Possibly one of the most universally recognizable families of spiders is the tarantula. Their thick, skittering legs and intimidating face make it one of the most terrifying predators that won’t get past a foot in length.
But outside of being the bully of its small ecosystem, what does a tarantula do to trap its prey and consistently find food for itself? Well, read on to find out!
How Tarantulas Hunt
These nighttime nightmares do not hunt like traditional spiders. You won’t see some beautiful elaborate web design with a large, lumbering tarantula laid back in the middle of it.
Instead, they take an alternative, nocturnal approach to the typical spider that we have grown accustomed to.
So check under your desk for the fifth time to make sure there isn’t anything under there and get ready to learn exactly how these guys find their food!
Have you ever seen those old horror movies where the camper snags a foot on a wire that jingles a bunch of cans back towards the house of the guy in the hockey mask? Well, those writers need to credit their local tarantula, because they stole the idea from him.
In the same way that tripwire is used, tarantulas create small perimeter webs that inform them when a creature has walked past, alerting them to the location. The vibrations from the web being ‘tripped’ are felt in the spider’s legs and they can then go to the exact location and begin the next fascinating step in their pattern of predation.
Once they’ve felt something on their webbed perimeter, they can hold prey down with their strong legs and dose it with the venom from their fangs that paralyzes the unfortunate insect.
Once the insect is properly immobile, the tarantula will then secrete a liquid (this is gonna get weird) that will turn the body into a fleshy puddle. This will allow the spider to suck up the bug puddle through the various openings on their little arachnid mouths.
If they have gone too long without something wandering by or are particularly desperate for food, it isn’t unheard of for them to wander out from their ‘nest’ and look for food. They will almost always wander around at night and look for unsuspecting critters to snatch a hold of.
Despite having more eyes than any three people combined, they have very poor vision and night blindness so they have to rely on their almost superhuman sense of touch.
If you ever wondered what the thousands of tiny hairs on a tarantula are for, they work as the eyes and ears of the operation. Those tiny follicles have become so fine-tuned that the slightest budge of a bug within striking distance tells the tarantula exactly where to attack.
This is where the plodding, lumbering walk of a tarantula can be misleading. When they want to be, they are blindingly fast.
In a very rudimentary sense, tarantula’s have their own form of food storage. While their predatory instinct will always make sure that they are going after any potential meal that wanders by, they are not always hungry.
So what a forward-thinking tarantula will do is wrap their newly acquired groceries in a small silk web enclosure and store it off for later.
Considering that a tarantula can manage a month without needing to eat again, this method of food preservation is probably exercised fairly regularly.
It should come as no surprise that the opportunistic arachnids are not vegetarians. They hunt a wide variety of smaller game that they can manage to get the jump on. The usual insects make the list, though some of the larger victims may surprise you.
These are not the only meals a tarantula will take part in, however. If they are in a particularly tight spot they will go after small birds, frogs, mice, and in exceedingly rare cases, snakes.
The Arizona tarantula is uniquely risky in the fact that it has been reported to go after small scorpions, though this is not a common occurrence.
A larger breed of tarantula, the goliath birdeater is notorious for taking out bigger prey and as the name suggests, birds.
While most tarantulas can count their immediate predators on eight limbs, they do still have them. The most intimidating by far has to be the tarantula hawk, a wasp that can get up to two inches in length and is entirely immune to the venom of a tarantula. These wasps deliver one of the most painful stings in the known world, which ironically enough can paralyze a tarantula.
Once the tarantula has been paralyzed, the wasp will essentially kidnap it and take it back to its lair of choice. Once there, the wasp will lay an egg inside the stomach of the still-living tarantula, and its offspring will feed on the insides, while the tarantula is still alive. Nature is absolutely horrifying.
One of the more interesting aspects of the tarantula is its ability to regrow any part of its body.
During the molting process, if a tarantula has lost a limb in a scuffle or has suffered extensive internal damage, this can usually be reversed when they molt.
During the molting process, a tarantula is at its most vulnerable and should be left alone to recover as the process can be very strenuous and taxing.
Tarantulas in captivity who are overfed can actually die from obesity, as they get stuck in their old skin during the molting process. This unfortunately is almost always fatal to the tarantula.
Some Will Use Their Bristles as Defensive Weapons
Those hairs you see on tarantulas all differ and some are actually known as urticating hairs and they work a bit like a porcupine, but more projectile. If a predator gets a little handsy with a wandering tarantula, these barbed hairs will stick into them causing severe discomfort and pain.
Maybe the tarantula doesn’t like the way a fox is looking at him, well with the shake of his leg he can send the hairs flying at the nearby nuisance.
It’s estimated that nearly ninety percent of tarantulas possess this interesting defense mechanism.
Even more interesting is the fact that these hairs change depending on the area that a tarantula is in, being specialized against certain predators depending on the geography the eight-legged spider resides in.
The tarantula has over 1000 different species and exists on every continent except Antarctica. People estimate that they have existed in the Americas for 120 million years.
These robust, intelligent predators have stood the test of time and proven that they can adapt to their environment.
We could all learn a thing or two from the patient arachnid; just don’t tackle your neighbors when they step on the perimeter web you’ve placed around your house.