tarantula (tərănˈchələ) [key], name applied chiefly to several species of the large, hairy spiders of the families Theraphosidae and Dipluridae of North and South America. The body of a tarantula may be as much as 3 in. (7.6 cm) long and, with legs extended, as much as 10 in. (25.4 cm) across. The North American tarantula, Dugesiella hentzi, has a leg spread of up to 6 in. (15.2 cm) and is common in parts of the SW United States. The largest tarantulas may kill small vertebrates, but their usual food is other arthropods. The bite of a tarantula may be painful but is not usually dangerous to humans. Some Asian spiders are also called tarantulas, and there is a tailless whip scorpion genus Tarantula. Originally the name was applied to a spider of the wolf spider family, Lycosa tarentula, of S Europe, whose bite was supposed to cause tarantism, a nervous condition characterized by hysteria; the best cure was believed to be strenuous and prolonged dancing of the tarantella. Spider families are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Arachnida, order Araneae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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