Tarantula spiders are creepy and crawly for some people, a nightmare and synonym for devilish poisonous critters. The image is given to the spiders by some animated books and eerie movies. However, there is a group of humans who are attracted and mesmerised by them.
These people study and explore them in the deep Amazon jungles and all around the world, photo document them, and some also keep them as pets.
Tarantulas are the largest and most respected of all spiders. Their size is almost that of a dinner plate and like any other spider, they have eight eyes and eight legs.
However, are you aware that we too have tarantulas in India? We actually have not one but 53 different species of tarantulas in India and these are found in moist habitats around the country — the Western Ghats, Eastern ghats, the northeast and the Shivalik areas are the hubs for a variety of spiders, including the mighty tarantulas. Of the 53 tarantulas, 49 are endemic, meaning found only in India.
Usually, these are nocturnal species and live in tunnel- shaped burrows in the ground or in a hollow tree trunk. This tunnel can be about a metre deep. The outside of the tunnel has many web threads, which serve as sensors; when any prey disturbs it, the spider is alerted and makes its move. Tarantula’s diet is amazing; they do not just eat insects but also eat frogs, lizards and snakes. All these creatures are killed by the mighty tarantula with the two huge fangs. Their way of eating is also interesting, they secrete venom and digestive juices on their prey. This externally digests the prey, which is then sucked in like a drink.
Their venom is believed to be fatal for humans too, however, there is no report to prove any human death due to a tarantula bite; not just in India but all over the globe. There are over nine hundred species of tarantulas all over the world. There are reports of tarantulas being eaten by humans. They are roasted or fried and eaten by rainforest dwellers. Some Indian tarantulas are in big demand in the international pet market. People involved in their trade are also the ones who call themselves conservationists and to prove themselves, they say some of the tarantulas live only in one or two locations in the wild, and from there too, they are slowly becoming extinct.
This argument may seem to be nonsensical at first but it is only due to these spider pet keepers and traders, the tarantulas have got some attention and being researched and explored. It is very important to include these amazing creatures into the schedule group of the Wildlife Protection Act so that the collectors curb the growing pet trades of tarantulas. The commercial pet trade primarily targets those tarantula species, which grow large and are colourful. Some Indian tarantulas are suitable for traders like the Poicilotheria. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed them in the Red data book as threatened with extinction.
The history of exploration of tarantulas in India was very interesting. The first exploration was in the year 1877 from Shibsagar region of Assam, but the maximum research was done by a British zoologist — Reginald Innes Pocock. This one man alone described 25 tarantulas from India, which means half of Indian tarantulas! An Indian zoologist — BK Tikader discovered and described five tarantulas. The last tarantula — the Rameshwaram parachute spider, was discovered in 2004 from Pamben Island and Mandapam by AM Smith.
But the habitat of Rameshwaram parachute spiders has been destroyed because of various reasons and due to the limited area of distribution of this spider, its existence is in peril. Hence, if we learn about such microscopic details of every species, we will be able to save them from extinction.