This is the Texas (or Oklahoma or Missouri) Brown tarantula, Aphonopelma hentzi, a native of Southwest United States. Although you commonly hear that they arrived in a bunch of bananas, it is a native species whose northern range includes a stretch from Colorado to southern Missouri and as far east as Louisiana. A. hentzi is considered to be the predominant tarantula species in this range.*
The brown tarantula is one of the most common species of tarantula thriving in the southern-most United States today. They can have a leg span greater than four inches and weigh more than 3 ounces as adults. The body is dark brown in color, varying both between moults and among individuals.
Although quite memorable when found, they are rarely encountered as their preferred habitat is dry rocky glades. They spend the day in silk lined burrows, frequently abandoned rodent or snake burrows. They do not build a capture web but extend silk strands outward to act as trip wires. At night they emerge to hunt crickets and other insect prey. Large tarantulas are said to kill small mammals and even birds.
Tarantulas will mature sexually after 7-12 years. The males have longer legs and will strike out in August and September looking for females. After mating they will usually die within a few months. The females stay close to their tunnels so the tarantulas we see out and about are usually males.
|Note small eyes- T. J. Morgan|
|Wasp and its prey|
They have a second line of defense which affects animals that are sniffing them or touch their undersides:
"New-world tarantulas (those found in North and South America) are equipped with urticating hairs on their abdomen, and will almost always throw these barbed hairs as a first line of defense. These hairs will irritate sensitive areas of the body and especially seem to target curious animals who may sniff these hairs into the mucous membranes of the nose. Some species have more effective urticating hairs than others." Wikipedia
|Bottom view with fangs- T. J. Morgan|
The fear of the tarantula dates back to the middle ages in Taranto, Italy where it got its name. Its bite was said to produce severe pain, spasms and exhibitionism, and death. The only cure was said to be wild dancing, the origin of the folk dance known as the tarantella. Neither the bite nor the cure have been documented in modern times.
Finally, what about the movie star spider I mentioned above. A tarantula named Thomas was induced somewhat reluctantly to crawl across Sean Connery's chest in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No.
The most comprehensive information is in this PDF.