Thursday, October 17, 2013

Night of the Tarantula

Hello guys! Welcome back to my website. As usual, we'll run through updates before getting to the nonfiction article I wrote for today . . .

The seasons are changing quickly. In just a few days, we'll be celebrating Harvest Day, which many people like to refer to as Halloween. As a Christian, I don't celebrate Halloween. Instead, I celebrate Harvest Day. You can read why Christians shouldn't celebrate this holiday and it's roots in sinister ancient cultures in an article I wrote last year by clicking this link. In the meantime though, here's how close we are to some of our favorite holidays:

  • It is: 13 days till Harvest Day
  • It is: 41 days till Thanksgiving
  • It is: 69 days till Christmas
Spiders . . . these creepy crawlies scare the jitters out of many. It's mainly the smaller ones that give people the creeps, but spiders actually come in a wide range of sizes. There are three suborders of spiders within the order Araneae, which consists of over 40,000 different living species! The suborder that contains the largest spiders is called Mygalomorphae. And within this group are the famous tarantulas! Being the largest spiders, tarantulas have a reputation for being monsters, but let's take a look at the facts about tarantulas and learn more about these amazing animals God made.
Mexican Tarantula - safe to hold unless frightened.
Being a creature that crawls over the earth, God made the tarantula on Day 6 along with the other land animals and man. Originally, before the Fall of Man, spiders were vegetarian as it explains in the book of Genesis in the Bible. After the Fall, as we all know, most spiders took to a carnivorous diet (but a recently discovered species actually is an herbivore!). Spiders are quite common in the fossil record dating back to when the waters of Noah's Flood covered the earth. Some were preserved as fossil remains, while others were preserved in hardened tree sap called amber. The spider got caught in the sap while it was still gooey and it became fossilized just like a dinosaur bone, preserving the creature inside. The cool thing about spiders preserved in amber is that it looks exactly like it did in life!
This spider is forever locked in crystal-clear, fossilized amber.
The largest species of tarantula (and also the largest species of spider) is the Goliath bird-eating spider (but it ranks second for the title of “largest spider” in terms of length – the giant huntsman spider is longer, but has less girth). It can leg-span of 12 inches and weighs 5.3 ounces; males are longer but the females have more bulk, so basically, the female is larger. Tarantulas also live in a wide range of locations and habitats – many species can be found in southwest North America and throughout Central and South America; Goliath bird-eaters live in Central and South America. But other species can be found elsewhere too, such as Africa, a majority of Asia, Australia, and parts of Europe. Basically, they can be found everywhere except Antarctica. Their habitats are varied too. Tarantulas can be found from the hot steamy jungles, mountains and cloud forests to hot, dry grasslands, savannas and deserts. One of my favorite tarantula species is a close relative of the goliath bird-eater and called the Mexican red-knee tarantula. They get their name from the reddish-orange bands on the joints of their legs. Also as their name suggests, they can be found in Mexico, but they're also native to the southwest portion of the United States.
The Goliath bird-eating spider is the largest tarantula of all!
If you're ever looking for tarantulas, (which is doubtful if you have arachnophobia – the fear of spiders!) your best bet would be to look for them at night since they're nocturnal. Unlike most spiders that make webs to catch their prey on, tarantulas live in burrows that they sleep in during the day. At night, they are alert, waiting for prey to stop by for dinner. Tarantulas normally eat insects and other small invertebrates, but rodents, frogs, lizards and other small animals aren't out of the question. As its name suggests, Goliath bird-eaters will occasionally snag a small bird if they can. When keeping tarantulas for pets, it's important to have one per cage. Why? Well, tarantulas are known to be cannibalistic, that's why! The only unproblematic occasion where you can keep two tarantulas in the same cage is for breeding purposes (as long as you separate them soon after mating has taken place!).
The Mexican red-kneed tarantula (one of my favorites) gets its name from the reddish bands on its knees.

Of course, no matter what you want to eat, you have to catch it first! Just because they don't spin webs doesn't mean tarantulas don't have working spinnerets. Instead of using silk for spinning webs, tarantulas line their burrows with silk that acts like trip lines. That way, whenever one of their prey items walks by the burrow, the tarantula – which rests its feet on the other end of the trip lines – feels the vibration of its prey and launches and attack! It sinks its fangs into the prey, ejecting special enzymes that paralyze and turn the prey's insides into a mushy substance for the spider to drink up. Despite being larger than other spiders, tarantulas aren't nearly as dangerous – their venom is actually about more or less as potent as a bee sting and, unless the individual is allergic, is not deadly to humans.
This is a failed attempt to breed tarantulas -- the male met an untimely demise thanks to his potential mate's hunger!
Tarantulas are predatory, but they're also a great potential meal for loads of other animals such as the coati. These small (but large to the tarantula) raccoon-like animals live in Central and South America and like raccoons, have banded tails and nimble fingers. Since their bite isn't very dangerous to anything other than their prey, God gave the tarantula a better defense against these wily mammals! When threatened, the tarantula will turn away from the predator, but not to run away; it rubs its legs against its hairy abdomen and flings loads of hair onto the aggressor. Not too bad . . . right? WRONG! The hairs of the tarantula may be small, but they're very irritating depending on the species. Some such as the Chilean rose tarantula and pink toe tarantula are rather mild, Brazilian giant white knee tarantula are a bit worse, but those of the Goliath bird-eater is extremely irritating! How irritating? The hairs of the Goliath bird-eating spider leave painful rashes and people have compared them to the wounds you might get from sharp shards of fiberglass! OUCH!
"Stay away from me!" This is what a tarantula does when it wants to be left alone . . . and most people with arachnophobia read the sign and quickly obey!
Tarantulas aren't nearly as scary as you first thought right? Well, so long as you don't frighten a Goliath bird-eating spider so it throws its hairs at you! But just like any animals, whenever a tarantula or other type of spider bites (or shoots hair) at a person, it isn't because it's being evil – it's merely defending itself. So instead of viewing tarantulas as evil, sinister, eight-legged creeps with extremely potent venom that's enough to kill a person (which, as we just discussed, is mythical), we should view tarantulas and other spiders as beautiful creatures that God made with the ability to find food, live in its environment and keep predators at bay. Tarantulas really are cool spiders!

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