Check out the Creepy Critters
By Sara Thompson
Special to the Enterprise
One of Explorit Science Center’s creepy critters is our Chilean rose haired tarantula. This species of tarantula is a common pet in classrooms and in homes because it is generally a very calm and docile animal. Like many spiders, this one is often viewed as creepy and scary, but they are actually very interesting animals that are essential to their ecosystems.
These large spiders make their habitat in desert scrublands in South America, particularly Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. They are nocturnal, meaning they are most active and hunt at night, choosing to hide during the day. Their primary prey are insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, cockroaches, and even small mice and lizards. Female tarantulas are larger than males, with the former having around a 5-inch leg span, and the males with 3.5-inch leg span.
The rose haired tarantula gets its name from the red hairs on the body, but some can also be brown. These hairs have a variety of uses with the first being to help the animal camouflage in the desert. The red hairs blend in well with its habitat, but when that defense does not work the tarantula can throw some of the hairs at a predator, becoming an irritant for the spider to escape. Their fangs also can help defend themselves, but as a last resort as they are needed for feeding. Tarantulas, like all spiders, have venom, but theirs is used to subdue their prey and aid in digestion. Their venom is not medically significant, which means it is rarely harmful to humans.
Female tarantulas can live up to 20 years in captivity, with the males living only around 5 years. If allowed to mate, a male will pass away a few months later. A female can lay anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs after mating.
Spiders in the wild help reduce the number of insect pests. Insects can devastate crops and even spread disease. Spiders are very important to their environments and should be respected and left alone. Tarantulas can look scary, but they are rarely harmful to humans and would rather not interact with you.
Explorit’s rose haired tarantula is named Aragog and is believed to be a female. We are unsure how old she is as we received her from a retiring teacher who had her as a classroom pet, but we have had her for around five years. We feed her crickets and she has a small log for her to hide under if she wants. When we are open to the public, guests can view her in our animal area, but she is often inactive or hiding. At night, however, she has been seen climbing on objects in her enclosure and is very active.