Lee Richardson Zoo
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Oklahoma Brown Tarantula

Order: Aranea - spiders

Family:  Theraphosidae -tarantulas

Scientific Name: Aphonopelma

 

Oklahoma Brown TarantulaDescription The abdomen and legs are a medium chocolate brown with a tan carapace.  Mature males develop a copper hue to their carapace.  This is a docile species of tarantula with a body length of around 2 inches and leg span around 3.5 inches. (Other varieties of tarantulas can reach body lengths ranging between 1.5 to 5” with a  leg span from 2 to 12”.)

 

RangeHome Range: Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas  

 

Habitat Type:   Tarantulas prefer dry, well-drained soil.  The female digs a burrow and lines it with silk webbing to prevent sand and soil from trickling into the burrow.  If the soil is not suitable, the tarantula will find refuge under loose lying debris or in cracks in rock or logs.

 

Reproduction:  It takes 3-9 years for female tarantulas to reach sexual maturity.  Upon reaching sexual maturity the male will seek out a receptive female by the scent she leaves on the silk of her burrow.  The male will usually die shortly after mating.  The female will store sperm in receptacles on her abdomen and upon construction of a cocoon, release the sperm and eggs into the sac.  She then seals the cocoon and stands guard until the hatching of her 500 – 1,000 young about 6-9 weeks later.  The young stay with their mother for approximately 2-3 weeks.

 

Diet in the Wild:   Tarantulas catch their prey with speed, not webbing.  They eat almost anything that is the right size.  Their primary prey includes small insects (grasshoppers, beetles, sow bugs, cockroaches, crickets, other spiders), small lizards, scorpions, and an occasional small bird or rodent.  Prey is caught with the jaws and then venom is injected into the prey.  The internal organs of the prey are liquefied by the venom and “sucked up” by the tarantula’s specialized mouth parts.

 

Diet in the Zoo:   Crickets

 

General Information:   The largest tarantula species is the Goliath birdeater, found in French Guiana.  This spider has a 12 inch leg span and weighs a quarter of a pound.  The tarantulas found in Kansas will most often be some shade of brown, however the tarantula species includes spiders which are yellow and black, red, orange and more.  The toxicity of these spiders ranges from merely irritating to very dangerous.  The local variety is not considered to have harmful venom.  When bitten the allergic reaction the individual has to the venom is what may cause problems, as well as the puncture wounds left by the fangs.  Like most animals, the tarantula will give you a warning before biting.  The tarantulas have urticating hairs on their abdomen which they will “throw” into the air using their hind legs.  These hairs often have barbs on the ends of them and are used to irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs of potential threats.  Tarantulas are classified differently than other spiders, as they walk on 5 pairs of legs (instead of the traditional 4).  This extra set of front legs are actually modified mouthparts that are used more for holding prey than walking.  The tarantula hawk (a wasp) is known to paralyze a tarantula with its sting and lay an egg in the spider’s body.  The larva will then use the spider for nutrients while growing.

 

Conservation Status:   unknown, probably stable

 

Predators:   Natural enemies include lizards, snakes, birds, rodents, and the Tarantula Hawk.  This wasp will paralyze the tarantula with a sting and then drag it to a pre-made burrow.  An egg will be placed in the abdomen of the spider where the young wasp will develop and feed on the paralyzed tarantula.

 

Resources:

Desert USA, the Ultimate Desert Resource;  May 27, 2004

 

Montgomery, Sy. “Stalking Spiders,”  Discover    February 2004, p 62.

 

American Trantula Society Web Page; December 6, 2004