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Tarantula defense mechanisms

One might think that the first thing a tarantula, like Pinki — the Chilean rose-haired tarantula at the Dickinson County Nature Center, would do to protect itself would be to bite with its venomous fangs. Yet, they actually have several warning signs to tell predators, including people, that they are uncomfortable and to not get too close.

1. Booty waggle

If a tarantula is uncomfortable, unhappy or fearful, its first warning signal is to wave its abdomen — the main part of its body beneath the cephalothorax, which is the head and thorax combined. It may also pose with its feet tensed outward, ready to react.

2. Hair explosion

The second defense mechanism a tarantula has is to use its back feet to scrape hairs off of its abdomen and kick them out at a predator. Tarantula hairs are barbed, which makes them itchy and uncomfortable to touch. Imagine getting those hairs kicked into your eyes by an angry spider!

3. Venomous bite

A tarantula still won’t just bite. It will stand up on its back legs, tense its body and show off its fangs underneath its cephalothorax. If the predator still doesn’t back away, that is when a tarantula will bite.

However, a tarantula doesn’t want to bite anything it can’t eat, including a human. A tarantula’s venom liquifies the body tissues so that it can drink it, and it doesn’t want to waste its venom on something that it can’t ingest. Remember, venom is different than poison. Venom comes from a bite, whereas poison is excreted on the body.

If you do ignore a tarantula’s warning signs and get bitten, the reaction may vary. For a Chilean rose-haired tarantula, the reaction is usually not severe unless a person is allergic. Reactions vary by spider species as well.

Like with any animal, be aware of warning signs and give an animal its space. If it feels threatened, it may react. If it feels comfortable, it will most likely remain calm. For animals you encounter in the wild, make sure to always give them space and let wild be wild.

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