Meet The Bird-Eat­ing Taran­tula

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Animal Scene - - FRONT PAGE - Text by NYZA FAUS­TINE HO Photos by JEFFREY C. LIM

The Acan­thoscur­ria genic­u­lata is very stun­ning, with its huge size and the vivid mark­ings on its legs. These leg mark­ings act as a warn­ing col­oration for these species so preda­tors will leave it alone. The gi­ant white knee taran­tula is a good dis­play taran­tula be­cause they don’t spin too many webs in their en­clo­sures, and they are of­ten vis­i­ble since they sel­dom dig bur­rows as adults. This is why the A. genic­u­lata is very fa­mous in the arach­nid keep­ing hobby. In the Philip­pines, this species is of­ten dis­played in pet ex­hibits to at­tract peo­ple; this way, more of them can ap­pre­ci­ate arach­nids, es­pe­cially chil­dren, as they don’t look as scary as the stereo­typ­i­cal hor­ror movie spi­der.

An un­usual—yet itchy—de­fense

Usu­ally docile and de­fen­sive rather than ag­gres­sive—con­trary to pop­u­lar belief that they are an ag­gres­sive species—the A. genic­u­lata sel­dom at­tempt to bite. In­stead, they flick their ur­ticat­ing hairs and stands their ground when threat­ened. Ur­ticat­ing hairs are tiny barbed hairs that New World taran­tu­las such as the Brazil­ian Gi­ant White Knee can flick to­wards a per­ceived at­tacker. These can cause se­vere itch­ing and ir­ri­ta­tion, or even se­ri­ous al­ler­gic re­ac­tions when in­haled or touched; these can also cause se­ri­ous dam­age if too many en­ter the eyes or lungs. Ur­ticat­ing hairs are at­tached to a taran­tula’s ab­domen. Should you no­tice that the taran­tula uses these hairs too much, it means that it is be­ing sub­jected to too much stress in its en­vi­ron­ment or en­clo­sure. How­ever this is not some­thing to worry about in terms of aes­thet­ics; if your pet Brazil­ian Gi­ant White Knee Taran­tula has a bald spot due to too much flick­ing of ur­ticat­ing hairs, all of it can be re­grown in the next molt. Just make sure that your pet taran­tula is not sub­jected to too much stress such as han­dling or un­eaten live feed­ers run­ning around its ter­rar­ium.

Another rea­son for pop­u­lar­ity

In the taran­tula keep­ing hobby, the Brazil­ian white knee bird-eater be­came fa­mous world­wide be­gin­ning in 1998. It was es­pe­cially sought by peo­ple who be­lieved that “big­ger is bet­ter” when it came to their pets, since this species is a mem­ber of the “bird-eater” group of taran­tu­las in the in­ver­te­brates keep­ing hobby. It earned the name “bird-eater” af­ter peo­ple ob­served how these taran­tu­las tack­led and ate live birds, both in cap­tiv­ity and in the wild. Be­cause of the mas­sive size and strength of the bird-eater taran­tu­las, they are able take down prey big­ger than them­selves; even if the prey strug­gles, it will still have a hard time es­cap­ing the fangs of the bird-eater taran­tu­las, as these can reach up to an inch in length. The venom in­jected by these bird-eat­ing taran­tu­las also plays a role since they can in­ject more venom than smaller species of taran­tu­las. This en­ables them to de­vour prey such as birds, which can be fast; but since taran­tu­las are of­ten am­bush preda­tors, they wait un­til it is the right time to strike to en­sure a kill. The Brazil­ian White knee Bird-eater grows fast but starts out small. Spi­der­lings of this species are only about half a cen­time­ter in size dur­ing their first feed­ing stage af­ter they hatch from their eggs. De­spite their small size, they have a huge ap­petite for prey that is the same size or a bit big­ger. As spi­der­lings, they molt more of­ten, so they grow quickly. This molt­ing process only slows down when they have reached their max­i­mum size; for fe­males, this is around 7-8” of their di­ag­o­nal leg span. Once this size is reached, the fe­male taran­tula will only molt once a year or ev­ery 16 months. How­ever, when males reach their ul­ti­mate molt, they will al­ready have hooks in their first pair of legs; thus, they will no longer grow or molt again. In rare cases that a ma­ture male molts again, it is al­ways un­suc­cess­ful and leads to death due to a bad molt. The size of ma­ture males de­pends on the size of their en­clo­sure.

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