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Thursday, 1 July 2010

Tarantulas - terrifying or terriffic ?

A big hairy spider can certainly be terrifying but did you know they are also terriffic.  There are 900 species of tarantula and at The Big Greenie we have a Chile Rose tarantula (Grammostola rosea), named Winona.

They originate from Chile, where they live in the driest deserts on earth.  Chile, no longer exports animals and captive bred Chile Rose have become popular pets, due to their large size, hardiness and docile nature. The rose name refers to their coat of reddish-orange to pink hairs. They are a long-term pet.  The females can live for 15-20 years and can have 500 spiderlings at a time.  After breeding the male dies.

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We have set up a webcam in Winona's vivarium so you can share our office pet.  She is mainly active in the evenings and at night time.  Insects, are tarantulas main prey, and Winona eats crickets.  Periodically, she will shed her external skeleton.  They even replace internal organs and re-grow lost body parts !

All tarantulas should be considered dangerous, but they are not deadly.  They bite when provoked but would much rather run away.  When they do bite, their venom is weaker than a honeybee.  The bite is painful but virtually harmless, although some people are allergic. 

The chile rose is a type of tarantula that kicks off hairs on it's abdomen as a defence.  It can send hundreds of irritating hairs flying through the air and into the eyes and nose of a predator.  If handling a tarantula consider it's individual temperament and wear protective goggles.  Be aware, that Chile Rose are fragile and a fall could easily kill them.

Even if you don't like spiders we have much to learn from them.  Spiders have inspired scientists, engineers, artists and designers. Webs have helped engineers to design stronger suspension bridges.  They are even the inspiration for naming the internet the World Wide Web.  They inspired the Marvel comic characters, Spiderman and Tarantula.  Spiderman can shoot webs from his wrists to help him travel with superhuman speed and agility and Tarantula is a supervillian. 

Tarantulas don't make webs but all spiders produce silk that is elastic and powerful.  It has properties that prevent it from drying out and avert bacteria and fungus from growing on it.  A high-tech fabric made from spider silk could be used for soldiers uniforms.  It is lightweight and potentially rip-proof. 

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A spider doesn't have muscles and bones to bend it's legs and uses a pressurised fluid system.  This has been copied by scientists for the movement of space robots and spider hairs have inspired a design for self-cleaning windows and solar panels.  My favourite spider influence is the  Maman sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.  She produced this work when she was in her eighties.   

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So what do you think? Terrifying or terrific ?

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