Range:

All continents except Antarctica, but most are found in South America

Habitat:

Rain forest, desert, and scrubland

Scary spiders?

They're big, they're hairy, but are they scary? Not when you get to know them! Tarantulas are the biggest spiders in the world. They are also known as baboon spiders in Africa and hairy spiders in South America. But don't be alarmed! Most tarantulas are busy minding their own business. If you don't bother them, they won't bother you.

Hairy spiders

Like all spiders, tarantulas have two body segments—a cephalothorax (seff-a-la-THOR-ax) and abdomen—and very strong jaws with venomous fangs. Their legs (all eight of them!) are covered with tiny hairs. Many tarantula species use their legs to flick special hairs, called urticating hairs, off their abdomens when disturbed. These hairs are barbed and lodge in the eyes and mucous membranes of would-be attackers, causing great discomfort and irritation. Tarantulas from Asia and Africa do not have urticating hairs, so they have to use more aggressive posturing when threatened.

Adult tarantulas stop feeding for several days to as long as several months before molting.
Some people consider the Goliath bird-eating spider to be a tasty morsel when wrapped in a banana leaf and roasted over a fire.
The king baboon spider makes a hissing sound by rubbing together structures on it s mouthparts when threatened.
Spiders cannot eat solid food, so they pump digestive fluids into their prey and suck up the liquids.
Tarantula venom may have medicinal use in treating blood clots.

The insect house in the San Diego Zoo’s Discovery Outpost, is home to 14 tarantula species, including the goliath bird-eating spider. We rotate the display of these impressive animals seasonally.

You can read an interesting account of the care of one of our tarantulas in the blog post titled: Off with His Leeeeg!

Hidden Jungle at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is home to three tarantula species. The horned baboon tarantula has a very distinct “horn” that faces backward across the spider’s carapace; the Mombasa golden starburst tarantula has a starburst pattern of golden hairs on its carapace; and the Fort Hall baboon tarantula is light gray or brown with darker spots and stripes on its abdomen.

Many tarantula species have been over-collected in the wild for the pet trade and are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Zoo is a refuge for a large group of tarantulas confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 from an illegal smuggling sting.