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Overview

Distribution

Geographic Range

Desert tarantulas, Aphonopelma chalcodes, are common throughout the Southwestern United States, especially Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Milne, L., M. Milne. 1980. The Audobon Society's Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

While sexual dimorphism is apparent in adult A. chalcodes, it is not as drastic as seen in other species. Males have a diameter of 49 to 61 mm, whereas females range from 49 to 68 mm, with a leg span of approximately 98 mm. Desert tarantulas, like other tarantula species, have a body covered entirely with hair. Like all spiders, they are divided into two body segments: the cepholothorax and the abdomen. The cepholothorax is gray to dark brown and the abdomen is dark brown to black. Iridescent hair forms a pad below the tip of each of the eight legs (Milne and Milne, 1980). Tarantulas inject poison into their victims by biting them with fangs on the end of the chelicerae (Jackman, 1997).

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; venomous

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

  • Jackman, J. 1997. A Field Guide to Common Texas Insects. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing.
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Ecology

Habitat

Aphonopelma chalcodes often resides in desert soil. It makes its home in burrows by digging itself under stones or by utilizing burrows discarded by rodents. It may live in the same burrow for decades. Since it lives in the desert, A. chalcodes is acclimated to harsh weather conditions. It does not require much water to survive, and can therefore survive in the extreme heat of the desert.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune

  • Miller, G. 1988. Texas Monthly Field Guide to Wildlife in Texas and the Southwest. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Aphonopelma chalcodes spends much of the day hiding in its burrow. When the sun sets, it emerges and begins to search for food.

Foods eaten: lizards, crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas and caterpillars.

Animal Foods: reptiles; insects

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore )

  • Safra, J. 1998. The New Encyclopedia Britannica Volume II, 15th Edition. Chicago, Illnois:
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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

These spiders presumably impact insect population through their predatory behaviors. As a possible prey species, A. chalcodes may have some positive influence on the populations of its predators and parasites.

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Predation

Humans pose no real threat to desert tarantulas at this time, and A. chalcodes has few natural predators. Only birds and two parasitic insect species (a fly and a tarantula wasp) have been recorded as killing these spiders. When disturbed, desert tarantulas maneuver to face the threat, raise up on their hind legs, and stretch their front legs in a threatening posture. Aphonopelma chalcodes may also rapidly brush the top of its abdomen with its hind legs, which dislodges urticating hairs that can irritate the eyes or skin of an attacker (Jackman, 1997). These poisonous hairs can cause rashes or even partial blindness in the attacker (Miller, 1988).

Known Predators:

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Aphonopelma chalcodes is a solitary creature which lives the majority of its life alone. It makes no sounds, and since tarantulas have poor vision, this species communicates with the outside world and the opposite sex primarily by touch. (Miller, 1988).

Communication Channels: tactile

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; vibrations

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Life Cycle

Development

When young A. chalcodes emerge from an egg, they all resemble females (Milne and Milne, 1980). It is not until later that sexual differentation occurs. Most spiderlings do not survive to reach sexual maturity (Jackman, 1997). They are either eaten by predators or do not find enough food to survive.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Male and female desert tarantulas have very different life expectancies. While it takes approximately 8 to 10 years to become sexually mature for both sexes (Miller, 1988), males, after molting for the last time, live for approximately 2 to 3 months. Females, however, continue to molt (shed their exoskeleton as they grow), and may live for up to 20 years. In captivity, females have been known to live for 25 years (Milne and Milne, 1980).

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
20 (high) years.

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Reproduction

The male emerges from its burrow at sunset and then again near dawn. A male tries to maintain contact with the female, and if she pulls away, he will actively pursue her.

Males have two specialized claws that are shaped like syringes on the ends of its two pedipalps. Male A. chalcodes weave a purse to hold the sperm, which he then loads into the specialized claws. Females have two pouches on the abdomen that are designed to hold the sperm sacks. Sperm sacs can be stored for weeks or months in the female's abdomen until she is ready to lay her eggs. As a female lays her eggs, she bathes each egg in the sperm (Miller, 1988). She weaves a silken sheet and lays up to 1,000 eggs on it. After laying all her eggs, she weaves another sheet, covers the eggs, and then seals the edges. After making this egg sac, a female carries it up to the edge of her burrow to warm it in the sun. Females guard their egg sac until the eggs hatch in up to 7 weeks (Miller, 1988). Three to six days after hatching, the young leave the nest and venture out on their own.

Breeding season: June through December

Range number of offspring: 100 to 1000.

Average number of offspring: 600.

Average gestation period: 7 weeks.

Range : 3 to 6 days.

Range time to independence: 3 to 6 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 to 10 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 10 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; sexual ; fertilization (External ); oviparous ; sperm-storing

Females care for their offspring in a number of ways. In addition to making a safe place for the eggs to hatch, and provisioning those eggs with nutrients, females actively help the eggs incubate by keeping them warm in the sun. Presumably, the female provides protection for the young spiderlings as they live in and around her burrow until they are three to six days old.

Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Protecting: Female)

  • Miller, G. 1988. Texas Monthly Field Guide to Wildlife in Texas and the Southwest. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Aphonopelma chalcodes is not endangered in any way.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Aphonopelma chalcodes does not have a great negative impact on humans. Although its bite is painful, it is not highly poisonous. The venom is similar to that of a mosquito or a bee sting.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings, venomous )

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Aphonopelma chalcodes has little economic value to humans. It is sometimes sold as a pet, due to its gentle nature and easy maintenance (Miller, 1988). Desert tarantulas also control pests by eating beetles, grasshoppers, millipedes, and other spiders (Miller, 1988).

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Aphonopelma chalcodes

Aphonopelma chalcodes, commonly known as the western desert tarantula, Arizona blond tarantula or Mexican blond tarantula is a species of spider belonging to the family Theraphosidae. It has a limited distribution in the deserts of Arizona and adjacent parts of Mexico but can be very common within this range. The common name "blond tarantula" refers to the carapace, which is densely covered in pale hairs and contrasts strongly with the all-dark legs and abdomen. The female body length is up to 56 mm, males only reaching 44 mm.

Description[edit]

This 3 to 10 inch (7 to 25 cm) large bodied, burrowing spider is commonly seen during the summer rainy season in southwestern deserts. The female is usually a uniform tan color. The male has black legs, a copper-colored cephalothorax and a reddish abdomen. Their burrows can be as large as 1 to 2 inches (25 to 50 mm) in diameter, with some strands of silk across the opening. [1]

Distribution and Habitat[edit]

The Arizona blond tarantula is typically found in saguaro-dominated plant communities. There are many similar species throughout the desert southwest, but they are difficult to differentiate.

Ecology[edit]

Tarantulas are nocturnal predators that never venture far from their burrows unless it is mating season. In winter they plug their burrows with soil, rocks, and silk and survive in a relatively inactive state. During this time the animals live off stored fat reserves.

Tarantulas have an interesting defensive capability in addition to venom. Some of the hairs on the top of the abdomen are specialized for defense. These urticating hairs, as they are called, are tipped with backward pointing barbs. If a tarantula is threatened in any way, it brushes these hairs into the face, paw or other body part of its attacker. Once these hairs are embedded, they are irritating and very difficult to remove because of the barbs.

Life History[edit]

Male tarantulas mature when they are 10 to 12 years of age, at which time they leave their burrows in search of females. Upon finding the burrow of a mature female—she’s usually at least 10 years old—the male will announce himself by stroking the silk at the top of the burrow and tapping particular sequences that the female responds to. During mating, the male must reach under the female to insert his pedipalp into her gonopore to deposit sperm. He is particularly vulnerable to predation by the female when mating. The male’s first pair of legs has a “spur” located behind the knee which he uses to hold the female above him during copulation. After copulation the male makes a hasty retreat. The female lays her eggs in a burrow, sometimes staying with them. The young remain in the burrow until they disperse.

Each time a female tarantula molts, typically once a year, she also molts the lining of her epigynum (the female reproductive structure) where the sperm are stored, so she must mate again before she can produce fertile eggs. The many tarantulas seen on the roads in Arizona during the summer rains (July, August, September) are usually males searching for mates. The male tarantula does not survive long after his summer mating. Sometimes the female makes a meal of the male, or another predator kills him. Sometimes he dies of exposure to heat and cold. Even in captivity, out of harm’s way, males only survive a few months after mating.

References[edit]

Preston-Mafham, Ken (1998). Spiders: Compact Study Guide and Identifier. Angus Books. ISBN 978-1-904594-93-2. 

  1. ^ Stephensen, Jimmy. "Aphonopelma Chalodes". jspestcontrol.com. Retrieved 2013-03-20. 
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