Tarantulas are very vulnerable animals with a lot of natural predators. They’re more than capable of defending themselves when threatened or disturbed by a potential predator. Some tarantula keepers are very familiar with how tarantulas protect themselves.
While tarantulas prefer to hide from potential predators, they will also run if possible. Some tarantulas have urticating hairs on their abdomens they can kick into the air to hurt and deter predators. Other tarantulas will perform a threat pose to warn predators to leave them alone and bite as a last resort.
In this article, we’ll be explaining the various methods tarantulas use to protect themselves from potential predators. Understanding this before you get a tarantula is critical to preventing accidents for both you and them.
How Do Tarantulas Protect Themselves from Predators?
Tarantulas don’t stay out in the open long. They hide inside their burrow all day and may sometimes leave it at night when fewer predators are around. Burrow entrances can be sealed for additional security when the tarantula is moulting, making them more vulnerable than usual.
Fossorial tarantulas did very deep burrows, making them difficult for predators on the surface to detect. While terrestrial tarantulas may create burrows, these are not as deep underground, and they’re more likely to be active outside the den at night. Arboreal species live in the trees and not on the ground. Arboreal tarantulas will turn places such as hollow logs into their homes high up from the ground.
Camouflage is also commonly seen in tarantulas to help them blend into their environment. This has resulted in some incredible colourations. The Panama Pink or Lava Spider (Theraphosinae sp. Panama) is a black and bright red tarantula that’s evolved this colouration to mimic the colouration of the leaves when they fall to the floor.
Tarantulas are very fast animals. They’re capable of moving quickly, suddenly and without any prior warning, which makes it possible to escape. While they may be able to outrun some predators, tarantulas can also run for better cover.
When a tarantula seems to be calm one second and moves very fast the next, this is a behaviour tarantula keepers usually call “bolting”. When taking a tarantula out of their enclosure, they can bolt and vanish into the room very quickly. Some tarantulas may suddenly attempt to bolt up feeding tongs as well.
Tarantulas would rather not fight a predator if they don’t need to. Needing to actively defend against a predator places them at risk. If possible, a tarantula would rather avoid the confrontation by hiding to avoid detection or running away.
- Threat Pose
When a tarantula feels as though they can’t run away, they will perform a threat pose. It’s an aggressive-looking stance where the tarantula lifts the first pair of front legs up and puts their fangs on display. However, this is a defensive action and is not intended to be aggressive.
If the tarantula is not left alone, the stance will change slightly. They will deepen it by adding the next pair of legs which causes their carapace and fangs to lift higher. A tarantula in the final and deepest position will have their front three pairs of legs in the air, and their front half will be bent far back with fangs fully exposed.
A bite often follows up threat postures from a tarantula. When a tarantula is threat posing, it’s best to leave them alone if possible.
Tarantulas need their venom for prey and would prefer to save it if possible. Tarantulas are willing to bite predators attacking them if needed. They can “dry bite” where they bite without injecting venom. However, they will deliver venom if required.
Animals with venom will often do “dry bites” if they need to defend themselves. The attack should be enough to warn most predators away without using up their precious venom. Some tarantulas are more willing to bite than others. Old World tarantulas are very defensive, will threaten pose without much prompting, and seem very ready to bite.
While tarantulas will usually perform a threat position first to warn a potential predator, not all do this. Some species, such as the Orange Baboon Tarantula (Pterinochilus murinus), are especially known for their willingness to bite. They’re even nicknamed “Orange Bitey Thing” due to their reputation.
- Urticating Hairs
Urticating hairs are special hairs on the tarantulas’ abdomen designed to get embedded in a predator’s skin. They are designed to target mammals, birds and other animals with a mucous membrane. Urticating hairs that get lodged in the eyes, throat and nose can cause serious harm to a human.
Not all tarantulas have urticating hairs. Only the New World species have them. This is part of why Old World species are more prone to threat posing and biting instead. New World species will rub their hind legs against their abdomen to release the hairs into the air towards the threat. They can also defend the burrow by brushing them off onto the webs to hurt any potential predator that touches it.
Different tarantulas have different urticating hairs. Chilean Rose Tarantula (Grammastola rosea) has hairs that most humans find to be mild, but the Goliath Birdeater (Therphosa blondi) is very severe. The hairs from a Goliath Birdeater are painful and often compared to shards of fibreglass, which can also cause rashes. Getting those hairs in the eyes, nose or throat can cause blindness and potentially death by suffocation.
What do Tarantulas Do When They Feel Threatened?
When a tarantula feels threatened, they will perform a threat pose. This is done by lifting the front pair of legs into the sky to make them look bigger and display their fangs. If this doesn’t work, they will deepen the pose further and perform fake strikes towards the threat.
Tarantulas can deepen the threat pose by lifting the second pair of legs into the sky, which leads to the front half of their body being raised higher. If needed, tarantulas will put the front three pairs of legs into the air to perform the deepest threat position. Taking this pose will make them seem much larger and fully expose their fangs. They will usually perform a “dry bite” without venom if they need to attack the predator.
New World tarantulas have urticating hairs that will rub off into the air towards the potential predator. The hairs are very irritating and depend on the species of tarantula. These could be lethal for a small mammal or bird. These hairs will embed themselves in the skin, which can be painful, but if they get lodged in the nose, throat or eyes, it becomes much more severe for the animal. Urticating hairs have the potential to blind animals with a mucous membrane.
For humans, urticating hairs are still painful and can cause serious problems, but it depends on the species. While the Chilean Rose Tarantula (Grammastola rosea) has mild urticating hairs for us, the Goliath Birdeater (Therphosa blondi) is very severe.
How to tell if your Tarantula feels Threatened?
A tarantula that feels threatened may try to run away. However, this isn’t always possible. A tarantula with urticating hairs may turn away and aim their abdomen at the threat so they can rub the hairs off into the air in from of the threat’s face. Other tarantulas will immediately perform a threat pose or try to bite.
Tarantulas are very sensitive to sounds and vibrations. They may lunge at you or perform a threat pose. They can feel you approaching the area they are kept in and will often go deeper into their burrow as the first defence mechanism. When opening their enclosure, keep in mind that the entire enclosure is the tarantula’s home. Disturbing their home can feel like a threat, and a tarantula may rush out in response.
It’s best not to bother a tarantula unless you need to. Causing stress is likely to cause them to treat you as a threat and become defensive. When a tarantula performs a threat pose at you, it’s best to give them some space and leave them alone. Some tarantulas will also kick urticating hairs at you, which you don’t want to breathe in. Always move away from the enclosure opening and clear the air out to disperse the hairs.
What’s the difference between how Old World and New World Tarantulas Protect Themselves?
Old World tarantulas do not have urticating hairs. This means they must rely on speed to run away and are more defensive. New World species with urticating hairs will point their abdomen towards the threat and rub off the hairs into the air.
New World species will also run away, perform a threat pose and bit potential predators that won’t leave them alone. However, Old World species are more likely to do these things since they lack the urticating hairs defence mechanism. This is why Old World tarantulas are regarded as unsuitable for new keepers and why they are considered more ‘aggressive’. The tarantula is not being aggressive, and they are just being defensive when challenged by a potential threat.
How does a Tarantula Protect Itself in the Desert?
Many desert tarantulas are terrestrial or fossorial species that live in burrows. During the day, a tarantula lives underground for protection. However, threat posing and biting are common protection methods, while some use urticating hairs.
Desert tarantulas will dig into the ground for their burrows where the air is more humid. Staying in the burrow during the day also ensure they are less likely to encounter predators who would be able to spot them easily. There are fewer predators out at night for tarantulas to need to defend themselves from.
When a predator challenges a desert tarantula, it will pose a threat and bite if needed. Tarantulas prefer to ‘dry bite’ first to not waste venom, but they will inject the potential predator if they aren’t left alone. New World tarantulas with urticating hairs will turn away from the threat and rub their abdomen to release urticating hairs into the air. These hairs will get embedded in the skin and eyes of a bird or mammal and are very irritating. For smaller animals, these hairs can kill if they get lodged in the nose or throat. They can also blind animals if the hairs into their eyes.
Tarantulas have several defence mechanisms to protect themselves against other animals, including those much larger than them. While running and hiding to avoid confrontation is the best defence a tarantula has, they do have other options. Performing a threat pose will make them seem larger than they are, and lunging towards the threat could make them think twice. New World tarantulas also have urticating hairs on their abdomens which can be lethal for smaller mammals or birds. Most tarantulas don’t have urticating hair that can hurt a human, but the Goliath Birdeater is especially dangerous to us.