Is it a tarantula? Then why does it have wings? These and many more similar questions have been thrown around lately on social media. These are all reactions to a terrifying image of a flying tarantula that spooked many people trying to figure out what the creature was. The squirm-inducing viral photos scaring people appear to be a gigantic tarantula with massive wings. The spider on a red brick wall was hairy like a tarantula and had two feelers. So, is it a tarantula with wings?
Are Tarantulas With Wings Real or a Myth?
Flying tarantulas are a myth. For the record, tarantulas are a group of large and often hairy spiders with massive fangs that can hurt humans. More importantly, no known species of spiders have developed flying wings. This automatically puts the question of whether flying tarantulas are real or not to bed. Instead, the false-winged tarantulas observed in the images are large moths.
The type of moth captured in the viral images is one of the largest silk moths in the world. They live in orchards, wetlands, and forests in regions of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Like all moths, it has a larva that feeds and turns into a butterfly. They are called polyphemus moths.
What Are Polyphemus Moths?
Polyphemus moth or Antheraea polyphemus is also referred to as the giant silk moth. It is a Northern American member of the family Saturniidae. A fun fact is that the caterpillar can eat 86,000 times its weight in less than two months leading up to its emergence.
The polyphemus moth has large eyespots in the middle of the hind wings. As a result, it is named after Polyphemus, the giant Greek cyclops with a single large, round eye on his forehead. The polyphemus moth was first described in 1776 by Pieter Cramer and has spread throughout North America.
Before now, the moth went by the genus name Telea and Antheraea. However, since Antheraea occurred more often in literature, it was adopted to avoid confusion. Its family name Saturniidae is also because of the eyespots that resemble the concentric rings of the planet Saturn. The moths are distributed mostly as large silk moths and are found in Mexico, Canada, and all the lower 48 states of the USA, apart from Nevada and Arizona.
Are There Flying Spiders At All?
Have you seen the Spiderman movie? Ever wondered if real-life spiders can jump from roof to roof and propel themselves in the air like your friendly neighborhood superhero? Turns out, there might be real-life spiders that can move like that. As surprising as this may sound, this spider can actually fly. If you are arachnophobic, don’t get scared just yet because flying spiders don’t harm humans. Flying spiders are known as Larinioides sclopetarius. The name refers to the orb-weaver spider, also known as bridge spider or cross spider.
Spiders don’t have wings, just as we mentioned earlier. However, the flying spiders use ballooning to propel themselves from one destination to another. Ballooning is a locomotion technique in which the spiders release their silk threads into the wind to move through the air. Although the activity only lasts for a short period, it is enough to move them from one place to another.
When a flying spider releases a long silk thread into the air, the strands become charged in the air after gaining an electric current. The electric field then raises the spiders in the air, allowing them to glide.
The body of a flying spider is covered with numerous hairs and spines. Much like how a human’s hair stands up due to static electricity, the sensory hairs covering the spider’s body help them to sense their surroundings.
Apart from orb-weaver spiders, crab spiders also exhibit this behavior. Flying spiders are nocturnal and will only balloon when they need to travel to a new feeding ground. They are also territorial and don’t live in groups.
Is the Flying Spider a Type of Tarantula?
No, the flying spider is not a type of tarantula. Unlike the tarantula, flying spiders are mostly gray or brown with light or dark markings on the abdomen. Their abdomen is large and round, while the head or cephalothorax is small in comparison. They can reach up to three inches in length and shoot webs up to 28 inches in diameter.
Flying spiders are found throughout the northern hemisphere. This includes North America, Asia, and Europe. The species are common near the Great Lakes in North America and throughout the United States. One of the most interesting facts about this species of spider is that male flying spiders can change into females in case there are insufficient females in the population.
Flying spiders are venomous but not poisonous. If they were to bite you, it would heal quickly as their poison is not lethal to a human.
Tarantula With Wings: Can a Tarantula Survive a Drop Test?
No, they mostly can’t. There are no tarantulas with wings, and unlike flying spiders, dropping a tarantula can kill it. Tarantulas can explode and die from falling because of their very fragile exoskeleton. Although the severity of the fall depends on factors like how high they fall and how they land, their eggshell-like exoskeleton makes them fragile.
Unlike crustaceans with hard exoskeletons, tarantulas have a soft rear half. Plus, they have a higher terminal velocity, and their abdomen would likely rupture in a fall. This will damage their internal organs and cause bleeding and death. This, in a way, explains why the tarantulas are bad at climbing, and experts recommend you avoid handling them.
In contrast, flying spiders can glide with precision. They also steer themselves mid-flight to adjust their direction and can land with fewer impacts on their bodies.
There is no tarantula with wings. Therefore, flying tarantulas are a myth. Although the Antheraea polyphemus looks like a tarantula, it is not. The closest thing to a flying tarantula is a flying spider. The species detect electric fields at levels found under natural atmospheric conditions and use ballooning to glide. Therefore, although they don’t have wings, they move from one location to another by shooting their webs into the air.
- Flying Spiders: Where They Live
- Pet Tarantula: The Ultimate Guide To Caring for a Tarantula
- Discover 6 Types of Tarantulas in Texas
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Pong Wira/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- Scoop Byte, Available here: https://www.scoopbyte.com/are-flying-spiders-real-everything-you-need-to-know/
- Nationwide News Pty, Available here: https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/terrifying-image-of-a-winged-tarantula-freaks-out-social-media-can-you-guess-what-it-really-is/news-story/247d9885d437a236da43c3ee8364bd30
- National Geographic Society, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/150818-spiders-animals-science-flying-forests