Tarantulas have two pairs of spinnerets that are used to produce silk. This silk can be used for a variety of purposes. Tarantulas can and do use silk to make webs, however these look very different to the traditional spiders webs seen in your home or garden.
Do All Tarantulas Make Webs?
While all tarantulas can produce silk – and hence make webs – some species are far more likely to produce it than others.
Some tarantulas will produce little or no silk. In contrast some others will produce copious amounts of it, building a complex lair in which to hide.
Even those tarantulas that do not make a silken lair to live within may use their silk for a variety of purposes in life…
What Do Tarantulas Do With Their Web?
It is tempting to think of spiders webs as just devices for catching insect prey. However webbing can come in handy for all sorts of other purposes. Here are just some of the ways in which a tarantulas silk can come in handy:
Protection During Moulting
Many tarantulas will lay down a fine sheet of web before they moult. This web provides a safe and secure “mat” on which to moult. Some tarantulas may also rub off some urticating hairs onto the mat to dissuade any potential predator attacking them during this sensitive time.
Adult male tarantulas build a special kind of web known as a “sperm web”. This webbing is particularly thick in appearance. The male uses it to transfer sperm from his reproductive glands to his pedipalps. It is these pedipalps which are inserted into the female during reproduction.
Tarantulas lay eggs. These eggs are typically laid on a fine sheet of web, which is then rolled up into a ball. The female cares for this ball of eggs – typically known as an eggsac – until the babies hatch some weeks later.
Wrapping Up Prey
It is quite normal for tarantulas to wrap up prey that they have captured in silk to prevent it from escaping. They may also produce web on the ground after catching a prey item.
Tarantulas will often be seen rotating slowly, with their spinnerets moving about wildly, laying down web while they hold their prey in their fangs. This is sometimes referred to as a “happy dance” as the spider appears so gleeful.
Building a Lair
Webbing may be used in a variety of ways to build a lair. Tree-dwelling tarantulas often spin elaborate silken retreats in which to live and camouflage from predators.
Some burrowing tarantulas will carefully line their burrow with web to prevent it from collapsing.
Other tarantulas will produce copious sheets of silk stretching out in all directions from their chosen lair.
Sensing Prey Nearby
Tarantulas are typically “sit and wait” predators. They wait for an unfortunate insect to come too close, then dash out of their lair to grab it. Web can be a useful tool for this.
It is possible to draw tarantulas out of their burrows in the wild using a process known as “tickling”. A piece of grass is used to gently “tease” the entrance to the burrow, whereupon the tarantula will sense these vibrations through the web, and dash out thinking a tasty insect is just outside their burrow.
What Do Tarantula Webs Look Like?
Tarantula webs don’t resemble the beautiful orb webs seen in many gardens in autumn. Instead, most tarantula webs are really just thick sheets of silk. Depending on the situation these may be laid on the ground, used to line a suitable lair, or stuck to vertical surfaces to produce a safe place to hide.
Which Tarantulas Produce a Lot of Webbing?
Some tarantulas produce far more web than others. Those that produce a lot are often described as “heavy webbers” and can be particularly popular in the pet trade. Heaving webbing tarantulas can be fascinating to keep and can make fantastic displays.
Some examples of heavy webbing tarantulas include:
Most arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantulas will also produce a generous amount of web. Examples can include tarantulas from the genera Psalmopoeus, Tapinauchenius, Avicularia, Omothymus, Caribena and Ybrapora.