Male and female tarantulas live very different lives after maturity. Depending on the species, female tarantulas can live for decades, hidden away in burrows or tree crevices.
For male tarantulas, however, the clock starts ticking as soon as they reach maturity.
Male tarantulas roam far and wide in search of receptive females. But what happens after breeding?
Do male tarantulas die after mating?
This is actually a more complex question than you might have realized. Sadly, most adult male tarantulas won’t see their next birthday, having been struck down for one reason or another.
We’ll look at these reasons in just a minute or two, but for now let’s clarify that “no” the act of mating doesn’t lead to the death of male tarantulas.
A male may survive for months on end, mating with numerous females in that time.
In captivity some adult male tarantulas may survive for a year or more after maturity.
In the wild, however, things can be rather different.
Causes of Death for Male Tarantulas
So if we’ve confirmed that adult male tarantulas typically don’t live anywhere near as long as females, but the act of mating doesn’t necessarily result in death, the next obvious question is what does lead to death so soon after maturity?
Eaten By a Hungry Female
While the act of mating itself doesn’t cause adult male tarantulas to die, becoming dinner for a hungry female tarantula is a depressingly common experience.
In many species, the female tarantula is much larger than the male. After copulation it is not unusual for the female to grab the male and slowly devour him over the coming hours and days.
This also occurs in pet tarantulas. Anyone attempting to breed tarantulas will need to be on red alert as the pair are introduced.
I often spend hours sat by the cage, long forceps and plastic catch cups in hand, ready to separate the pair if anything untoward occurs.
Even then I’m not always quick enough. Just a few weeks ago I left a pair together for a matter of moments while I nipped to the toilet, only to come back and find the female was eating the male.
Some keepers claim this is actually a positive sign and consider it a surprise if the male survives his encounter. I guess I’ll just have to wait some months to see if my Poecilotheria ornata drops an eggsac.
Tarantulas are big and juicy – a perfect meal for many mammals and birds. Perhaps that’s why they’ve evolved to spend most of their lives hiding away from view in burrows.
This lifestyle, however, all changes as a male matures and goes on the hunt for females. Suddenly he’s far more visible to predators, which can significantly increase the chances of being eaten.
In parts of the USA where tarantulas are native, these wandering males are also at risk of death from human actions. In the right season they’re often observed travelling on mass in desert regions, crossing roads late at night. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that some of these males end up getting run over by passing motorists.
Loss of Interest in Food
Adult male tarantulas are often so focused on finding a suitable mate that their appetite seems to decline. While I still offer food to my adult male tarantulas, I have observed that they eat far less than my females or even the juveniles.
Perhaps this lack of nutrition slowly affects them, weakening them as time goes on and so shortening their lifespan.
Most adult male tarantulas are incredibly lucky if they survive for as long as a year after maturity. In captivity, however, this is far more likely than in the wild. This is down to the lack of predators, and the ability to carefully control mating attempts in the hope of saving the male.
As a result, some adult male tarantulas do survive for a year or more – at which point they may try to go through the typical annual process of moulting.
Sadly, this often doesn’t end well. Moulting is possibly the riskiest time for a tarantula, when there are many things that can go wrong. For an old male that hasn’t eaten very much for months on end the results can be disastrous.
While there are threads of forums where adult males have survived this process, more often than not the simple act of changing their skin is the final nail in the coffin.
The act of mating itself doesn’t lead to death in male tarantulas, though getting grabbed and eaten straight afterwards is a far more likely end. Besides this, the lifestyle of male tarantulas also opens them up to all sorts of extra risks that can shorten their lifespan.
So spare a thought for the plucky male tarantula and admire his focus on his one true purpose in life – starting the next generation of baby tarantulas.