tarantula spider

Tarantulas are amazing animals. There cheap, don't need attendance all the time, and aren't evil like some people think. Only a hand full of arachnids can inject poison into peoples skin and an even fewer number can cause serious pain.

Most tarantulas can inject poison into human skin. Though I have never been bit, people say that it feels like a bad bee sting. No tarantula has ever been known to actually kill a human. These are part of advertisements of pet shops that tarantulas are of their highest selling.

Tarantula, strictly speaking, a large spider (Lycosa tarantula), takes its name from the town of Taranto, the principal town of Apulia, near where the spider is found. A large spider, it is unusual in that it does not trap its prey by spinning a web, but rather uses its speed to catch its victims, before using poison, secreted from glands in the jaw, to despatch the victim.

In olden times, Apulia was known for the prevalence of a disease called ‘tarantism’, which induced an hysterical condition in the sufferer, with one characteristic feature being the sudden desire to dance, in a wild and rapid whirling motion. In fact, the dance was one of the body’s natural defences against the illness, with the rapid activity helping to work the illness out of the body, through perspiration. The Italian dance, the tarantella, originates from this.

While the name ‘tarantism’ is now believed to also have been derived from Taranto, it was previously commonly supposed, by Kircher for example, that the illness was a result of the bite of a tarantula spider, and that the name originated with spider. Accordingly, it was believed that the cure for the bite of the tarantula was to perform the dance.
Helpfully, Kircher depicts the region populated by the spider, and gives two drawings, the underside and top. Finally, should one be unfortunate enough to get bitten, Kircher gives a recommended piece of music - ‘Antidotum Tarantul?’ - for the victim to dance to, to cure the bite!

The tarantula, like all its allies, spins no web as a snare but catches its prey by activity and speed of foot. It lives on dry, well-drained ground, and digs a deep burrow lined with silk to prevent the infall of loose particles of soil. In the winter it covers the orifice of this burrow with a layer of silk, and lies dormant underground until the return of spring. It also uses the burrow as a safe retreat during moulting and guards its cocoon and young in its depths.

It lives for several years. The male is approximately the same size as the female, but in neither sex does the length of the body surpass three-quarters of an inch. Like all spiders, the tarantula possesses poison glands in its jaws, but there is not a particle of trustworthy evidence that the secretion of these glands is more virulent than that of other spiders of the same size, and the medieval belief that the bite of the spider gave rise to tarantism has long been abandoned.

According to traditional accounts the first symptom of this disorder was usually a state of depression and lethargy. From this the sufferer could only be roused by music, which excited an overpowering desire to dance until the performer fell to the ground bathed in profuse perspiration, when the cure, at all events for the time, was supposed to be effected. This mania attacked both men and women, young and old alike, women being more susceptible than men. It was also considered to be highly infectious and to spread rapidly from person to person until whole areas were affected.

In recent times the term tarantula has been applied indiscriminately to many different kinds of large spiders in no way related to Lycosa tarantula; and to at least one Arachnid belonging to a distinct order. In most parts of America, for example, where English is spoken, species of Aviculariidac, or “ Bird-eating “ spiders of various genera, are invariably called tarantulas.

These spiders are very much larger and more venomous than the largest of the Lycosidae, and in the Southern states of North America the species of wasps that destroy them have been called tarantula hawks. In Queensland one of the largest local spiders, known as Holconia immanis, a member of the family Clubionidae, bears the name tarantula; and in Egypt it was a common practice of the British soldiers to put together scorpions and tarantulas, the latter in this instance being specimens of the large and formidable desert-haunting Arachnid, Galeodes lucasii, a member of the order Solifugae.

Similarly in South Africa species of the genus Solpuga, another member of the Solifugae, were employed for the same purpose under the name tarantula. Finally the name Tarantula, in a scientific and systematic sense, was first given by Fabricius to a Ceylonese species of amblypygous Pedipalpi, still sometimes quoted as Phrynus lunatus.