/teuh ran"cheuh leuh/, n., pl. tarantulas, tarantulae /-lee'/.
1. any of several large, hairy spiders of the family Theraphosidae, as Aphonopelma chalcodes, of the southwestern U.S., having a painful but not highly venomous bite.
2. any of various related spiders.
3. a large wolf spider, Lycosa tarantula, of southern Europe, having a bite once thought to be the cause of tarantism.
[1555-65; < ML < It tarantola. See TARANTO, -ULE]

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Name that originally referred to the wolf spider but now covers any spider in the family Theraphosidae.

It is found from the southwestern U.S. to South America. Many species live in a burrow, and most have a hairy body and long, hairy legs. They are nocturnal predators of insects and, occasionally, amphibians and mice. Certain South American tarantulas eat small birds. In the southwestern U.S., tarantulas of the genus Aphonopelma may have a body 2 in. (5 cm) long and a leg spread of nearly 5 in. (12 cm). They may inflict a painful bite if provoked. The most common U.S. species, Eurypelma californicum, may live up to 30 years.

American tarantula (Aphonopelma)

Lynam/Tom Stack & Associates

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  any of numerous hairy and generally large spiders found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and tropical America. Many tarantulas make burrows in soil and feed mainly at night on insects and occasionally small frogs, toads, and mice. In the southwestern United States, species of the genus Aphonopelma can attain a body length of up to 5 cm (almost 2 inches) and a leg span of up to 12.5 cm (almost 5 inches). The spiders, dark in colour and sluggish in movement, have a hairy body and hairy legs. Theraphosids are harmless to humans, although they can inflict painful bites if provoked. They are often kept as pets.

      The most common North American tarantula is Eurypelma californicum, which is found in California, Texas, and Arizona. A 30-year life span has been recorded for one individual of this species. Certain South American tarantulas (genus Theraphosa) called bird-eating spiders have a body length up to 7.5 cm (almost 3 inches) and reportedly capture and eat small avian prey.

      The name tarantula was originally given to the wolf spider, Lycosa tarentula, of southern Europe and was derived from the town of Taranto, Italy. The bite of L. tarentula was once thought to cause a disease known as tarantism, in which the victim wept and skipped about before going into a wild dance (see tarantella). It has been shown, however, that the bite of L. tarentula is not dangerous to humans and that no ill effects can be attributed to it. The body of L. tarentula is about 2.5 cm (1 inch) long. Like other wolf spiders, it spins no web but catches its prey by pursuit.

      Other spiders belonging to the same family as the New World tarantulas are the monkey spiders of Africa and the bird-eating spiders of Australia and New Guinea. trap-door spiders and the dangerous funnel-web spider of Australia are also related to the theraphosids as members of the primitive suborder Orthognatha.

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Universalium. 2010.

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