Desert Tarantula

In October, 1846, W.H. Emory, one of the first Americans to explore the area, encountered a group of tarantulas near the Gila river. He describes the event as follows: "In my walk I encountered a settlement of tarantulas; as I approached, four or five rushed to the front of their little caves in an attitude of defense. I threw a pebble at them, and it would be hard to imagine, concentrated in so small a space, so much expression of defiance, rage, and ability to do mischief as the tarantula presents."

Photo of large spider

Desert tarantulas are large, hairy spiders which can be found in washes and on the open desert. They are most visible during the mating season from June to October, when the males wander about in search of mates. Females are seen less often, since they remain in deep burrows of sand or gravel much of the time.

Desert Tarantula, USFWS photo by Jim RorabaughA relatively long-lived species, tarantulas take as much as ten years to reach sexual maturity. Before that time it is impossible to distinguish males from females. When mature the male is dark-colored, almost black, while the female is brownish. Female tarantulas may live up to twenty years. Though tarantulas are generally timid and harmless insects, they may bite if provoked. Though painful, their bite is no more dangerous to humans than a bee sting. The tarantula is a useful member of the desert biological community and should not be persecuted or killed. If its presence is not desired, it should be placed in a container and transported to some area where it can continue its useful life in peace. Photo credit; Jim Rorabaugh, USFWS.


Sovak, Jan. Insects. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994.

Stoops, Erik D. and Jeffrey L. Martin. Scorpions and Venomous Insects of the Southwest. Phoenix: Golden West Publishing, 1995.

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