Hairier than Big Bear

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Mon 24 Sep 2012 10:37

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Bimbling toward Temple V on our second visit to the ruins of Tikal; we stopped to say hello to a couple of lads swinging machete’s who were giving the path edges a bit of a hair cut. One of them asked if we would like to see a tarantula up close and personal - I nodded enthusiastically. Too busy taking pictures, I did stroke the lovely chap, but our new friend was keen for Bear to give it a cuddle and promptly ‘plonked’ him on the reluctant captain who was now ‘sweating behind his knee-caps’.


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Tarantulas give most people the creeps because of their large, hairy bodies and legs. But these spiders are harmless to humans (except for a painful bite), their mild venom is weaker than a typical bee's. It is said that one species in Africa can cause a person to hallucinate for several days after being bitten and some people have an allergic reaction to the hairs on their legs. Among arachnid enthusiasts, these spiders have become popular pets.

The average life span of these spiders is thirty years in the wild, although according to the Guinness Book of Records the oldest lived to the grand age of forty nine. They can be tiny to dinner plate in size with an average body length of around four inches and a leg span of eleven. They weigh in at between one and three ounces with the biggest being the goliath birdeater from Venezuela and Brazil who hefts in at five and a half ounces with a leg span of twelve inches. They are capable of catching and eating a small bird but much prefer insects and grubs.




Tarantulas periodically molt, shedding their external skeletons and in the process also replace internal organs, such as female genitalia, stomach lining and even regrow lost appendages. There are hundreds of tarantula species found in most of the world's tropical, subtropical and arid regions – seen in pale yellow. They vary in colour and behaviour according to their specific environments. Generally, tarantulas live in burrows in the ground. Tarantulas are slow and deliberate movers, but accomplished nocturnal predators. Insects are their main food, but they are known to target bigger game, including frogs, toads and mice. I love they way they walk – picking up every other foot, alternate feet on the other side. We didn’t want to see our chap raise up his front pair as this is the sign of aggression and possible attack, ours was quite happy even when our new friends turned him over to show his underside and blew on him to see if he would expose his fangs....................... nutter.


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A tarantula doesn't use a web to ensnare prey, though it may spin a trip wire to signal an alert when something approaches its burrow. These spiders grab with their appendages, inject paralyzing venom and dispatch their unfortunate victims with their fangs. They also secrete digestive enzymes to liquefy their victims' bodies so that they can suck them up through their straw-like mouth openings. After a large meal, the tarantula may not need to eat for a month.

A tarantula’s blood is unique, not true blood as we know it but rather a liquid called hemolymph. An oxygen-transporting protein is present (copper-based hemocyanin) but not enclosed in blood cells such as the erythrocytes of mammals. The tarantula’s heart is a long slender tube that is located along the top of the opisthoma (abdomen). If the exoskeleton is breached, loss of bodily fluid will kill the spider unless the wound is small enough that the hemolymph can dry and close the wound.


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Tarantulas have few natural enemies, but parasitic pepsis wasps are a formidable exception. Such a wasp will paralyze a tarantula with its sting and lay its eggs on the spider's body. When the eggs hatch, wasp larvae gorge themselves on the still living tarantula.

The tarantula's own mating ritual begins when the male spins a web and deposits sperm on its surface. He copulates by using his pedipalps (short, leglike appendages located near the mouth) and then scuttles away if and when he can - females sometimes eat their mates. Females seal both eggs and sperm in a cocoon and guard it for six to nine weeks, when some 500 to 1,000 tarantulas hatch.


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