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Tarantulas comprise a group of often hairy and often very large arachnids belonging to the family Theraphosidae, of which approximately 900 species have been identified. Although some members of the same suborder may also be called "tarantulas" in the common parlance, this article only describes members of Theraphosidae. Some genera of tarantulas hunt prey primarily in trees; others hunt on or near the ground. All tarantulas can produce silk—while arboreal species will typically reside in a silken "tube tent", terrestrial species will line their burrows with silk to stabilize the burrow wall and facilitate climbing up and down. Tarantulas mainly eat insects and other arthropods, using ambush as their primary method of prey capture. The biggest tarantulas can kill animals as large as lizards, mice, and birds.They can be found in the south and west parts of the USA, Central America, and throughout South America to the southern parts of Chile, Argentina. Tarantulas can also be found throughout Africa, large parts of Asia and all over Australia. In Europe, there are some species in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and in Cyprus. Most tarantulas are harmless to humans, and some species are popular in the exotic pet trade. All tarantulas are venomous, but only some species have venom that, while not known to have ever produced human fatalities, can produce extreme discomfort over a period of several days. Like all arthropods, the tarantula is an invertebrate that relies on an exoskeleton for muscular support. A tarantula’s body consists of two main parts, the prosoma (cephalothorax) and the opisthosoma (abdomen). The prosoma and opisthosoma are connected by the pedicle, or what is often called the pregenital somite. This waist-like connecting piece is actually part of the prosoma and allows the opisthosoma to move in a wide range of motion relative to the prosoma.
The sizes range from as small as a fingernail to as big as a dinner plate. Depending on the species, the body length of tarantulas ranges from 2.5 to 10 centimetres (1 to 4 in), with 8–30-centimetre (3–12 in) leg spans. Leg span is determined by measuring from the tip of the back leg to the tip of the front leg on the opposite side. The largest species of tarantula can weigh over 85 grams (3 oz). The largest of all, the Goliath Birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) from Venezuela and Brazil, has been reported to have a weight of 150 grams (5.3 oz) and a leg-span of up to 30 centimetres (12 in), males being the longer and females greater in girth. T. apophysis (the Pinkfoot Goliath) was described 187 years after the Goliath Birdeater; therefore its characteristics are not as well attested.T. blondi is generally thought to be the heaviest tarantula, and T. apophysis to have the greatest leg span. Two other species, Lasiodora parahybana (the Brazilian Salmon Birdeater) and L. klugi, rival the size of the two Goliath spiders. The majority of North American tarantulas are brown. Elsewhere have been found species colored cobalt blue (Haplopelma lividum), black with white stripes (Aphonopelma seemanni), yellow leg markings (Eupalaestrus campestratus), metallic blue legs with vibrant orange abdomen and greenbottle blue (Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens). Their natural habitats include savanna, grasslands such as the pampas, rainforests, deserts, scrubland, mountains, and cloud forests. They are generally classed among the terrestrial types. They are burrowers that live in the ground. Tarantulas are becoming increasingly popular as pets and are readily available in captivity. The eight legs, the two chelicerae with their fangs, and the pedipalps are attached to the prosoma. The chelicerae are two double segment appendages that are located just below the eyes and directly forward of the mouth. The chelicerae contain the venom glands that vent through the fangs. The fangs are hollow extensions of the chelicerae that inject venom into prey or animals that the tarantula bites in defense, and they are also used to masticate. These fangs are articulated so that they can extend downward and outward in preparation to bite or can fold back toward the chelicerae as a pocket knife blade folds back into its handle. The chelicerae of a tarantula completely contain the venom glands and the muscles that surround them, and can cause the venom to be forcefully injected into prey. The pedipalpi are two six-segment appendages connected to the thorax near the mouth and protruding on either side of both chelicerae. In most species of tarantula, the pedipalpi contain sharp jagged plates used to cut and crush food often called the coxae or maxillae. As with other spiders, the terminal portion of the pedipalpi of males function as part of its reproductive system. Male spiders spin a silken platform (sperm web) on the ground onto which they release semen from glands in their opistoma. Then they insert their pedipalps into the semen, absorb the semen into the pedipalps, and later insert the pedipalps (one at a time) into the reproductive organ of the female, which is located in her abdomen. The terminal segments of the pedipalps of male tarantulas are moderately larger in circumference than those of a female tarantula. Male tarantulas have special spinnerets surrounding the genital opening. Silk for the sperm web of the tarantula is exuded from these special spinnerets. A tarantula has four pairs of legs and two additional pairs of appendages. Each leg has seven segments which, from the prosoma out, are: coxa, trochanter, femur, patella, tibia, tarsus and pretarsus, and claw. Two or three retractable claws are at the end of each leg. These claws are used to grip surfaces for climbing. Also on the end of each leg, surrounding the claws, is a group of hairs. These hairs, called the scopula, help the tarantula to grip better when climbing surfaces like glass. The fifth pair are the pedipalps which aid in feeling, gripping prey, and mating in the case of a mature male. The sixth pair of appendages are the chelicerae and their attached fangs. When walking, a tarantula's first and third leg on one side move at the same time as the second and fourth legs on the other side of his body. The muscles in a tarantula's legs cause the legs to bend at the joints, but to extend a leg, the tarantula increases the pressure of blood entering the leg. Tarantulas, like almost all other spiders, have their primary spinnerets at the end of the opisthosoma. Unlike the typical spiders that on average have six, tarantulas have two or four spinnerets. Spinnerets are flexible tubelike structures from which the spider exudes its silk. The tip of each spinneret is called the spinning field. Each spinning field is covered by as many as one hundred spinning tubes through which silk is exuded. This silk hardens on contact with the air to become a threadlike substance. The tarantula's mouth is located under its chelicerae on the lower front part of its prosoma. The mouth is a short straw-shaped opening that can only suck, meaning that anything taken into it must be in liquid form. Prey with large amounts of solid parts, such as mice, must be crushed and ground up or predigested, which is accomplished by coating the prey with digestive juices that are secreted from openings in the chelicerae. The tarantula's digestive organ (stomach) is a tube that runs the length of its body. In the prosoma, this tube is wider and forms the sucking stomach. When the sucking stomach's powerful muscles contract, the stomach is increased in cross-section, creating a strong sucking action that permits the tarantula to suck its liquefied prey up through the mouth and into the intestines. Once the liquefied food enters the intestines, it is broken down into particles small enough to pass through the intestine walls into the hemolymph (blood stream) where it is distributed throughout the body. After feeding, the leftovers are formed into a small ball by the tarantula and thrown away. In a terrarium, they often put them into the same corner. As these balls are perfect hosts for molds and parasites, they must be removed regularly. A tarantula's central nervous system (brain) is located in the bottom of the inner prosoma. A tarantula perceives its surroundings primarily via sensory organs called setae (hairs or spines). Although a tarantula has eyes, touch is its keenest sense, and in hunting it primarily depends on vibrations given off by the movements of its prey. A tarantula's setae are very sensitive organs and are used to sense chemical signatures, vibrations, wind direction, and possibly even sound. Tarantulas are also very responsive to the presence of certain chemicals such as pheromones. Regardless of their fearsome reputation, tarantulas are themselves an object of predation, the most specialized of these predators are large members of the wasp family Pompilidae. In the Americas, these insects are termed "tarantula hawks", being parasitoids of tarantulas. The largest tarantula hawks, such as those in the genus Pepsis, will track, attack and kill large tarantulas. They use olfaction to find the lair of a tarantula. The wasp must deliver a sting to the underside of the spider's cephalothorax, exploiting the thin membrane between the basal leg segments. This paralyzes the spider and the wasp then drags it back into its burrow before depositing an egg on the prey's abdomen. The wasp then seals the spider in its burrow and flies off to search for more hosts. The wasp larva hatches and feeds on the spider's non-essential parts and, as it approaches pupation, it consumes the remainder. In addition to more mundane cuisine, tarantulas are considered a delicacy in certain cultures (e.g. Venezuela and Cambodia). They are usually roasted over an open fire to remove the hair and then eaten. Besides the normal "hairs" covering the body, some tarantulas also have a dense covering of irritating hairs called urticating hairs, on the opisthosoma, that they sometimes use as protection against enemies. These hairs are present on new-world species but not on specimens from the Old World. Urticating hairs are usually kicked off the abdomen by the tarantula, but it is noteworthy that some may simply rub the abdomen against the target, such is so with the Avicularia genera. These fine hairs are barbed and serve to irritate. They can be lethal to small animals such as rodents. Some people are extremely sensitive to these hairs, and develop serious itching and rashes at the site. Exposure of the eyes and respiratory system to urticating hairs should be strictly avoided. Species with urticating hairs can kick these hairs off: they are flicked into the air at a target using their back pairs of legs. Tarantulas also use these hairs for other purposes such as to mark territory or to line their shelters (the latter such practice may discourage flies from feeding on the spiderlings). Urticating hairs do not grow back, but are replaced with each moult. The intensity, amount, and flotation of the hairs depends on the species of tarantula. Many owners of Goliath Birdeaters (T. blondi) claim that theraphosids have the worst urticating hairs. To predators and other kinds of enemies, these hairs can range from being lethal to simply being a deterrent. With humans, they can cause irritation to eyes, nose, and skin, and more dangerously, the lungs and airways, if inhaled. The symptoms range from species to species, from person to person, from a burning itch to a minor rash. In some cases, tarantula hairs have caused permanent damage to human eyes. Some setae are used to stridulate, which makes a hissing sound. These hairs are usually found on the chelicerae. Stridulation seems to be more common in old-world species. While no fatalities have been attributed to tarantula bites, sometimes spider bites are regarded as the probable source of infections. Medical advice regarding prophylaxis may be helpful in that regard. In addition, there is considerable anecdotal evidence indicating that the venoms of some old-world species can produce symptoms so severe that medical treatment would be appropriate. Medical intervention is also regarded as appropriate when symptoms such as breathing difficulty or chest pain develop, since these conditions may indicate an anaphylactic reaction. As with bee stings, allergic reactions to protein fractions may be many times more dangerous than the direct toxic effects of the venom. Urticating hairs may cause medical problems for humans should they enter the eyes or the respiratory system. Unless one inhales air heavily laden with these hairs or rubs them into one's eyes, they are rarely a problem. Some individuals are more sensitive to skin contact with these spines and learn to avoid them when cleaning cages or otherwise coming into potential contact with them.

See Also:
ManausMapThings to doLandmarksHistoryUseful InfoWeatherRubber TreeAmazon TheatreNative Brazilian / IndegenousStick InsectSurvival in the Amazon JungleTarantulaBrazilian CarnavalCaiman / AlligatorTermitesAmazon River Dolphins / Pink DolphinsPiranhaSpidersWater LiliesMeeting of the WatersAmazon River / Amazonas RivesAmazon Jungle / Amazonas Jungle

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