So, do Tarantulas make webs? The answer is a bit mixed, because they do spin silk like a spider would do when making a web, but it’s not in the conventional way that we expect with spiders.
Spiders do not spin webs. They do shoot out silk, but this is primarily to protect their burrow. They cover the walls of their burrow in silk to make this living space safer, and more comfortable to navigate. Whereas spiders use webs to hunt, tarantulas do this by ambushing their prey.
People generally think that any spider is going to spin a web in order to catch its prey, but that’s not specifically true for tarantulas. However, this post is going to address not only the question of why a Tarantula will spin some of its silk, but how they hunt. After all, that’s what a web is primarily used for, so it’s fascinating to see how a Tarantula does things differently.
You probably never imagined that something as simple as a spider and its web could prove to be so interesting. Well, since the Tarantula is not your average spider, then let’s check out why and how they spin out silk as a starting point.
The Tarantula and Shooting Out Silk
OK, so let’s begin by explaining how a Tarantula shoots out a web. Well, to be more accurate, how they shoot out the silk that a spider would then usually turn into a web. However, do remember that they are not going to use this to make a web. Their reasons for it are completely different.
According to research, they do this via their feet. This is due to them still having to maintain their balance, so the silk comes out of things called spigots on their feet. The aim is to provide them with the ability to move up surfaces simply by spinning out silk to give them more grip.
This is a fascinating reason for the Tarantula to shoot out silk, but it’s clearly got nothing to do with a web at this point. It’s merely a way of helping them to work their way across a certain surface, when it would have otherwise been quite difficult to do so.
As a quick point, a normal spider will use their spinnerets to produce silk. While their location on the body of a spider can vary slightly, they aren’t on the feet for most spiders. Also, while we mentioned the term spigots slightly earlier, there is some new research coming out that suggests some Tarantulas may indeed have something closer to the normal spinneret, but they are still on their feet, and they are still capable of producing a huge amount of silk.
This entire issue of balance is important to the Tarantula. They could easily die if they slipped and fell, so the spider knows it has to do something in order to get to where it needs to go. That is why these spigots are on their feet.
This has been shown in some pretty cool research where scientists studied what basically amounted to footprints from a Tarantula. They realized that silk appeared in the footprints, and it was only their feet that had been in any contact with the surface. So, it all makes sense as to what they are using the silk for.
This discovery was a surprise, as scientists had been unaware for decades how a Tarantula produced the silk. The fact it came from their feet was pretty much the last place they had thought about looking, but when you understand why they are doing it, then it all makes sense. It turns out that a Tarantula does know what it’s doing. [Source]
This is all really cool. A Tarantula in the rainforest could be trying to climb up a tree that’s covered in all kinds of things in order to get to some potential prey. The fact they throw down this sticky substance to help them get from point A to point B makes them sound like SpiderMan.
But it’s Not Just Balance
But it’s not only for balance that a Tarantula will spin something like a web. Instead, it’s also used for keeping their ‘home’ safe and tidy.
A Tarantula doesn’t live in a web. It lives in a burrow under the ground, and there are a few reasons for this. Also, the Tarantula will dig out its own burrow. They do this by using their fangs, and they are surprisingly quick at doing this. On other occasions, they will discover an abandoned burrow and set up home there, but that does come with its own risks.
But anyway, back to the reasons as to why they live in a burrow.
First, it’s safer for them from predators, as a Tarantula does have a number of predators that are going to be out there to grab one for food. By living under the ground, they manage to stay away from lizards, snakes and other larger animals that will kill them in an instant.
However, it’s not only for safety reasons either.
They also live under the ground in a burrow because of the temperature. A Tarantula can overheat, and they live in warm climates, so that’s not a good combination for them. So, the Tarantula will hide away throughout the day before coming out to hunt at night. This allows them to keep cool while the sun is out, which it tends to do when you live in desert or tropical areas.
If you come across a burrow belonging to a Tarantula, then you will even see it starting to emerge as soon as dusk falls. They sense the temperature and light changing, and will start to move closer to the entrance in preparation for their night activities, but more on that later.
The Web in the Burrow
So, when does the Tarantula spin a ‘web’?
What actually happens is that the Tarantula will spin silk all over its home. It does this in pretty much the same way as we may lay a carpet in our home. It makes it easier on our feet, and the same applies to the Tarantula. They love their comfort, but it does have a practical reason behind it all as well.
Remember that they get so many sensations from their feet, so they don’t want to have anything that effectively disturbs those sensations. By putting down a layer of silk over the surface, it makes it easier for them, and they do seem to feel that it’s a lot more comfortable too.
Oh, and some will also put this silk layer all over the walls too, and it’s not just to keep other intruders away when they feel under attack. It will also stop material falling into their web and making a mess of things, so they end up creating something akin to a cocoon to live in, and that’s just pretty cool.
Also, by spinning silk all over their den, it’s going to prevent other insects from coming in and calling it their home. It turns out that a Tarantula is pretty houseproud, and they don’t want to share it with anything else. So, covering it in their silk is going to put off a lot of other insects that may have otherwise been attracted to the space.
It’s Defensive Too
Another interesting point to make is that a Tarantula will spin some silk as a way to offer itself some protection. It will lay out what is effectively a trip wire to the entrance of their burrow. They are then alerted when that trip wire is triggered, and they will instantly become alive and want to explore whatever it is that has set off the alarm.
Of course, it also means they can go deeper into their burrow, if required, depending on the threat. Basically, this type of ‘web’ is going to help them to survive, whether it’s connected to a predator, a potential mate, or even prey for them to go and hunt down.
To make it easier for them to hide from a potential predator, it has been shown that the Tarantula will spin silk to create what looks like a door or wall in their burrow. This gives them a space to hide in, while also confusing a potential predator. It’s a useful approach that does seem to work pretty well for them.
One thing to stress here is that their ‘web’ has no shape to it since it’s not produced in the conventional manner and for the usual means. It takes on whatever shape their burrow is, as that’s the determining factor, rather than anything else. However, there is structure to their silk. They do put some thought into how they manage to lay it down over their web, just it doesn’t come with the same complexities as you see with other species of spider.
But speaking of hunting, if a Tarantula doesn’t use a web, then what does it do?
The Usual Reason For a Web
A spider is going to primarily use a web to catch prey. It’s an effective method that has allows spiders to survive and thrive for millions of years. They can be quite complicated structures, but they all work along the same lines.
Of course, a spider will also spin silk to protect their eggs until they hatch. In that sense, it’s a defensive thing that also works exceptionally well for them. Without the ability to produce a web, then so many species of spider would die out as they would either starve to death or their offspring would never get the chance to hatch. That would be sad.
But a Tarantula is different from the overwhelming majority of spiders.
A Tarantula will have its eggs in their burrow hidden away from view and predators. They don’t need to go ahead and spin a protective shield around them in the same way as other species of spider. Why would they? It’s not as if their eggs are practically on display for predators to find.
In short, a Tarantula doesn’t spin silk for the usual reasons. It doesn’t catch prey using this method, so let’s look closely at how they hunt to show why spinning a web is not an actual requirement.
How a Tarantula Catches its Prey
So, a Tarantula doesn’t use a web to trap its prey. Other spiders use the web to trap and give them the time to go in for the kill, but that’s not the approach that a Tarantula is going to use.
Instead, they use an approach that’s more in line with the majority of predators out there in the natural world, and it’s all about ambushing and killing rather than using a web.
A Tarantula is nocturnal, and that’s partly connected to the fact that their preferred prey only comes out at night. So, this spider has realized that they too need to come out at night in order to catch them, so they are quite intelligent with their approach.
The way a Tarantula hunts is pretty simple, and yet it’s also highly effective at what it does.
Remember earlier when we spoke about the trip wire? Well, that’s one way of them knowing when there could be something worth pursing and hunting nearby. When it’s triggered, the Tarantula will come out of its den and sense where the potential prey is located, and also whether or not it’s something that is indeed worth hunting.
Their eyesight is pretty poor, so they have to go by sensations and feelings that come through all of those hairs on their body. Also, their feet are key in picking up on things, so that’s why they want to keep them clear when in their den.
Their ability to pick up on even the slightest of sensations through both their feet and the hairs on their entire body is impressive. But what they then do when they realize that some potential meal is nearby is just as impressive.
The Tarantula and Hunting Down Prey
So, the Tarantula will search out its prey, if the prey doesn’t inadvertently come to the Tarantula.
They ambush and pounce on prey, and they also move surprisingly quickly for a spider. That way they can chase down some insects and grab onto them, and then the fun and games begins for the Tarantula. Basically, this spider is quite sneaky in how they go about grabbing prey. They use night to their advantage and come out of the shadows.
The Tarantula may be able to run quite fast, but they are very deliberate and slow in their actions when it comes to hunting. They need to be like this due to not using a web to their advantage. The onus is all on them being able to do things in the right way, or they will go hungry.
So, let’s say the Tarantula has picked up on some possible meal, what do they then do?
Well, after pouncing on the unfortunate meal, they grab hold of the prey with their front legs. They are powerful for their size, and it’s going to be tough for the prey to escape.
However, they have no chance of escaping once the Tarantula has bitten down on the prey with their fangs and injected venom into their body. This venom will paralyze the prey, but the Tarantula is not finished. [Source]
Next, they will go ahead and produce a digestive enzyme and put it over the body of the prey. This starts a process of virtually liquidizing the body and helping it to turn into a mushy kind of substance. The Tarantula will then drink up the body and ingest it, which does sound rather disgusting, but it’s an approach that works out well for them.
So, They Don’t Need a Web
In short, a Tarantula doesn’t spin a web, and it’s pretty much because they have no need to do this in order to survive. They have managed to learn a different approach that works exceptionally well for them, so why would they then do something different?
The Tarantula doesn’t need to protect their eggs due to living in a burrow under the ground, and they don’t need a web to catch prey as they are very good at doing so without entrapping them in that way.
Yes, they do still produce silk, but it’s to protect their burrow and also to help them to effectively stick onto otherwise slippery surfaces where falling would lead to death. That alone shows you how intelligent a Tarantula is, and how evolution has helped them to become so aware of their surroundings and how to counteract any problem.
So, don’t be disappointed that your pet Tarantula doesn’t spin a web in the normal way, they have no interest in doing so. But check out the silk layer they put down in the home that you have provided to them, and see how cool it is as part of their way of looking after where they live.
And that’s it, the complete guide to a Tarantula and their web or, should we say, their lack of a web. Now you know what to expect if you go ahead and purchase a pet Tarantula.