Bio Facts: Tarantula, Pink-toed
Costa Rica, Brazil, Trinidad, Guyana, French Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela, throughout the Amazon Basin and the southern Caribbean
Tropical vegetation – trees and shrubs
Female adult sizes range from 4.5 to 5 in., and males grow to be about 3.5 in. in leg span. The mature pinktoe tarantula has a dark-colored body and pinkish feet in keeping with its name. Juvenile specimens, however, have pinkish bodies and dark-colored feet. Pinktoe tarantulas undergo a reversal in their coloration as they approach adulthood.
10+ years; males have a much shorter life expectancy.
4 to 5 years
In the wild they eat insects and other arthropods; in the Zoo, they are fed crickets.
One of the most notable features of the Avicularia species is its odd method of defense. When threatened, their first choice is to jump or run away as quickly as possible. Occasionally, though, they will launch a jet of excrement at the perceived threat. Adults are capable of good accuracy and a range of 2 or 3 feet (0.5–1 m).
Regardless of their fearsome reputation, tarantulas are the objects of predation; the most specialized of these are large members of the wasp family Pompilidae. In the Americas, these insects are termed “tarantula hawks”, being parasitoids of tarantulas. The largest tarantula hawks, such as those in the genus Pepsis, will track, attack and kill large tarantulas. They use olfaction to find the lair of a tarantula. The wasp must deliver a sting to the underside of the spider’s cephalothorax, exploiting the thin membrane between the basal leg segments. This paralyzes the spider and the wasp then drags it back into its burrow before depositing an egg on the tarantula’s abdomen. The wasp then seals the spider in its burrow and flies off to search for more hosts. The wasp larva hatches and feeds on the spider’s non-essential parts and, as it approaches pupation, it consumes the remainder.
The male has little hooks on his front two legs that he uses to grapple with the female’s fangs. The male must carefully be released into the female’s enclosure after she has made her sperm web. After breeding, the female should be fed a variety of food on a more frequent basis. The pinktoe tarantula is able to lay 50-200 eggs that can hatch within 6-8 weeks. Once the spiderlings are born they are able feed on crickets.
Like all arthropods, the tarantula is an invertebrate that relies on an exoskeleton for muscular support. A tarantula’s body consists of two main parts, the prosoma (cephalothorax) and the opisthosoma (abdomen). The prosoma and opisthosoma are connected by the pedicle, or what is often called the pregenital somite. This waist-like connecting piece is actually part of the prosoma and allows the opisthosoma to move in a wide range of motion relative to the prosoma.
Besides the normal “hairs” covering the body, tarantulas also have a dense covering of irritating hairs called urticating hairs on the opisthosoma that they sometimes use as protection against enemies. These hairs are present on new-world species but not on specimens from the Old World.
Urticating hairs are usually kicked off the abdomen by the tarantula, but it is noteworthy that some may simply rub the abdomen against the target, which is typical of those in the Avicularia genera. These fine hairs are barbed and designed to irritate. They can be lethal to small animals such as rodents. Some people are extremely sensitive to these hairs, and develop serious itching and rashes at the site. Exposure of the eyes and respiratory system to urticating hairs should be strictly avoided. Species with urticating hairs can kick these hairs off, flicking them into the air at a target using their back pairs of legs. Urticating hairs do not grow back, but are replaced with each molt.
This species is sometimes called the Guyana pinktoe, Common pinktoe or South American pinktoe as it is frequently harvested from those areas and has pink feet pads. The pinktoe tarantula was originally known as the “bird eating” spider. In fact the genus name “avicularia” means “small bird” in Latin. When Karl Von Linne (aka Carolus Linnaeus) was attempting to name virtually every animal on the Earth, this tarantula was the first identified.
These types of tarantulas are very docile, albeit nervous and jumpy, and are frequently kept as pets. Being an arboreal species, they require a relatively tall habitat with plenty of climbing space. 10 gallons is sufficient space as long as height is provided. 2-3 inches of peat moss or soil can be used for substrate, and branches and live plants/vines should be provided for climbing. They require a lot of moisture, along with ample ventilation which prevents molds from developing.
The word “tarantula” has been applied to several very different kinds of spider. The spider originally bearing that name is one of the wolf spiders, Lycosa tarantula, found in the region surrounding the southern Italian town of Taranto. Compared to new-world tarantulas, wolf spiders are not particularly large or hairy.
New-world tarantulas—those indigenous to the Americas—have bites that generally pose little threat to humans (other than causing localized pain).
Tarantulas are considered a delicacy in certain cultures (e.g., Cambodia). They are usually roasted over an open fire to remove the hair and then eaten.
There is a belief that they may be the reason behind rumors of “flying spiders” in the rainforests they are native to, as they are quite adept at jumping. Their legs, however, prevent them from gaining much height in making a jump.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
Pink-toed tarantulas first arrived in the Jacksonville Zoo animal collection in 2010.