Tarantulas are a group of large and hairy spiders with over 1,000 species identified. These ambush predators live in burrows and practice the sit-and-wait method of finding a meal. Some hunt from trees, others from the ground, using powerful fangs to strike their prey. Tarantulas are known to have long lifespans, but just how long they live is entirely dependent on their sex. So which lives longer, a male tarantula or a female tarantula? Let’s find out the lifespan of a male vs. female tarantula as well as how to tell them apart.
Comparing a Male and Female Tarantula
|Male Tarantula||Female Tarantula|
|Size||Smaller on average||Larger on average , sometimes broader jaws|
|Sex Organs||Emboli, Tibial spurs||Spermathecae|
|Spinnerets||Epiandrous fusillae present||Not present|
|Webs||Sperm webs||Egg sacs|
|Mating & Reproduction||Sexual maturity at 2-3 years, Migrate in search of a mate, may mate multiple times in a season||Sexual maturity at 4-5 years, Mate once per year, Lay 50-2,000 eggs|
|Lifespan||7-8 years||20-25 years|
Key Differences Between a Male and Female Tarantula
Male vs. female tarantula key differences include size, sex organs, spinnerets, webs, mating behaviors and lifespan.
Taratulas generally look the same throughout much of their lifespan and can be very difficult for a novice to tell them apart. However, with a bit of knowledge, practice and careful attention you can pinpoint the physical differences between a male and female.
Male vs. Female Tarantula: Size
In some species, mature male and female tarantulas are similar in size. In others, mature males are much smaller than mature females. They are more thin overall and typically have longer legs in comparison to their bodies. The jaws that end in fangs are often significantly broader in females than in males. Size can help in determining whether you have female or male tarantulas on your hands if you have many specimens to compare. However, it’s not the best method for sexing tarantulas.
Male vs. Female Tarantula: Sex Organs
A male tarantula develops his sex organs during his final molt. He grows bulbs at the end of the second pair of appendages that he has near his mouth. These are called emboli and he uses them to transfer sperm to a female tarantula. Males of many tarantula species also develop mating hooks called tibial spurs on the underside of their first pair of legs. These hooks are used during mating to engage the females fangs. Look for emboli and tibial spurs to determine whether you have an adult male tarantula.
One of the most accurate methods of sexing tarantulas is to examine the molted specimen and look for the spermathecae. This is the sperm receptacle and is found only in female tarantulas. A female tarantula sheds her spermathecae lining with the rest of her molted skin. While highly accurate, this method of determining the sex of tarantuals is not for novice keepers. The process usually requires a stereo dissecting microscope as well as particular care with softening and stretching the skin to reveal the spermathecae. Also, male tarantualas sometimes have accessory organs that look very similar and can be mistakenly identified as the spermathecae by beginners.
Male vs. Female Tarantula: Spinnerets
The second scientifically sound method of determining tarantula sex is by looking for spinnerets. Male tarantulas have specific spinnerets called epiandrous fusillae. These are an extra set of silk spinning glands that males have and females do not have. They produce a special kind of silk used to construct the sperm web built by male tarantulas.
You can find these special spinnerets on the edge of the males epigastric furrow. They appear like an arch of short, stiff and slightly bent hairs. View this illustration to gain a visual understanding of what to look for. Strong light and some magnification are helpful tools when viewing a live specimen. In addition to being accurate and fairly quick, this method is more effective on young tarantulas than viewing the developing spermatheca of young female tarantulas.
Male vs. Female Tarantula: Webs
Both male and female taranulas produce webbing for their homes. Terrestrial species use webs to structure their burrows and prevent them from collapsing. They will sometimes create web tunnels that fill the enclosure of their burrows. Arboreal species will create vertical web tubes and hammocks as well as dirt curtains. These are thick sheets of web with dirt and other debris stuck throughout. They are ambush predators who wait for prey to walk by and pounce on them. They will then use their webbing to secure the prey while eating. Some species lay down webbing called a molting mat. They cover it with a layer of their defensive “urticating hairs” to protect them while they are in the vulnerable process of molting.
While male and females produce webbing for many of the same purposes they also have specialized webs. Female tarantulas use their webbing to make egg sacs after successfully mating. Mature males use their webbing to produce sperm webs. Males produce special silk for the purpose of making a spern web with their epiandrous fusillae. The sperm web will be used to collect the sperm that he will deposit into a female.
Male vs. Female Tarantula: Mating Behaviors
A female tarantula reaches sexual maturity at around 4-5 years old and can mate once per year. Males tend to reach sexual maturity at 2-3 years and can mate many times during the short mating season. Male and female tarantulas generally stay close to their burrows. However, during mating season males will go out in search of females to mate with. A male tarantula in search of a mate may migrate a distance of up to several miles from his burrow looking for that special someone.
Once a potential mate is located the male will communicate their interest by tapping on the strands of web that lead into her burrow. To this knock on her door, so to speak, an interested female will respond by a rhythmic drumming. She will then exit her burrow and mate with the male if she finds him suitable.
A ready-to-mate male will experience one of three outcomes. If his potential mate is hungry, she may decide to make a meal out of him instead of mating with him. She may also eat her male parter after mating has occurred. A third outcome is that the pair will mate and the male will go on and potentially visit other burrows and try his luck at another mating.
A mated female will lay between 50 and 2,000 eggs. She wraps the eggs in a silk case and guards it in her burrow. She will roll it about every few hours and the spiderlings hatch from their eggs and emerge from the sac in a few months. They’ll stay in their mothers burrow for a few weeks before going out in search of their own.
Male vs. Female Tarantula: Lifespan
The lifespan of a tarantula is highly dependent on sex. It turns out that female tarantulas live much longer than their male counterparts. This is the primary reason that female are more sought after as pets. Female tarantulas can live an average of 20-25 years and up to 40 years in some cases. Male tarantulas live to be about 7-8 years old on average and up to 10 years old. They will typically die within a year of mating.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © fivespots/Shutterstock.com
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- Tarantulas.com, Available here: http://www.tarantulas.com/sexing.html
- BirdSpiders.com, Available here: http://www.birdspiders.com/faq_sex.php
- National Parks Services, Available here: https://www.nps.gov/band/learn/nature/upload/tarantula%20fact%20sheet.pdf
- University of Chicago, Available here: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/394296?journalCode=qrb
- Santa Lucia Conservancy, Available here: https://slconservancy.org/2022/09/22/its-tarantula-mating-season-in-california/