Tarantulas occur worldwide . Those found in North America occur in the southern and southwestern states, including the dry and warmer parts of the southern California. These are smaller and generally have a body length of less than 2 inches and a leg span of from 3 to 4 inches.
The Desert Tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) grows 2 to 3 inches long and is colored gray to dark brown. It is common to the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California.
The most common North American tarantula is Eurypelma californicum, found in California, Texas, and Arizona. A 30-year life span has been recorded for one individual of this species. Certain South American tarantulas, which have a body length of up to almost 3 in., build large webs and eat small birds.
The majority of tarantulas are black or brown but some species exhibit striking colors. The Mexican Red-legged Tarantula (Brachypelma smithi) has bright-red leg markings and, Cobalt Blue Tarantula (Haplopelma lividum) has legs colored deep blue.
The tarantula family includes the largest spiders known. The Goliath Tarantula (Theraposa leblondi) which inhabits South America, reaches a body length of 5 inches with a leg span of up to 12 inches . Even the small tarantulas reach a relatively large body length of 1.5 inches (4 centimeters).
The tarantula is a nocturnal hunter. It does not spin a web to capture its prey, but catches food it by speed It will take virtually anything of the right size that moves within range, but feeds primarily on small insects like grasshoppers, beetles, sow bugs, other small spiders and sometimes small lizards.
The tarantula strikes with its fangs, injecting venom and grasping the prey with its palps, armlike appendages between the mouth and legs. Then the Tarantula grinds its victim into a ball, secretes digestive juices onto it, and sucks up the liquefied prey. It may also wrap the ball in silk for a later meal.
Even if through carelessness a bite should occur, the venom when injected into man causes only slight swelling, with some numbness and itching which disappears in a short time. The chances of being bitten are so slight that one has little need to worry.
Tarantulas are harmless to humans and are often trained as pets, although they can inflict painful bites if provoked.
Although both males and females are capable of inflicting a bite when threatened, they rarely do so and their venom is considered to be non-toxic to humans.
Bites are unlikely to cause problems other than pain at the site. Skin exposure to the urticating hairs will cause itching and a rash.
First Aid: Clean the bite site with soap and water and protect against infection. Skin exposures to the urticating hairs are managed by removing the hairs with tape.
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