If you see tarantulas moving in greater numbers around Texas, don’t fear … they’re just looking for love.

Tarantula spider on rocks with leaves and grass.
There are 15 tarantula species that can be found around Texas like this one at Big Bend National Park. (Sam Craft/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Some folks equate this annual movement of these large, fuzzy arthropods to seasonal migration. But Wizzie Brown, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomology specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Entomology, Travis County, said the mass movement of tarantulas between May and August is not a true migratory event.

The uptick in tarantula activity and movement can be attributed to males searching for females to mate, Brown said, adding that the timing of their emergence and subsequent mating season is triggered by warmer spring temperatures and moisture. This means their location across the state can be a determining factor for emergence and activity.

“This spring has been warmer, so it may begin a little earlier than normal,” Brown said. “Usually once it warms up and we get some decent rain you will begin to see them. If you think about it, those same conditions mean more insects are emerging, which means more food for tarantulas’ offspring at that point.”

Tarantulas not a danger to us

Despite their size, tarantulas shouldn’t be feared by humans, Brown said. If encountered, she recommends just admiring them and leaving them be.

Tarantulas are not venomous to humans, but they can bite. They will typically give warnings by rearing up on their hind legs to look bigger or showing their fangs before they bite. Brown equates the bite to a bee sting.

They will also kick hairs off their abdomen as a defensive mechanism, she said. The hairs are prickly like a cactus with fine spines. Some people develop rashes from the hairs.

“They can be scary when judged by their size and looks,” she said. “They’re large, but they’re no danger to us. They can be grumpy when handled roughly, but if they bite, it’s typically from being provoked. So, look at them and appreciate them because they are beneficial. But people shouldn’t handle tarantulas in the wild.”

Texas tarantulas on the move

Tarantulas are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. They are the largest spiders on Earth, and Brown said species native to Texas can reach up to 6 inches from the tip of their front legs to the tip of their back legs.

Tarantulas are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton they molt numerous times throughout their lives. They have eyes, two distinct body regions and eight legs and are covered in hair. Texas tarantulas are typically blackish-to-brownish in color, and darker after they molt.

There are six tarantula species in Texas. Two species are widespread and not an uncommon sight during the annual mating season, Brown said. But they are more common and noticeable in certain areas and terrain. 

“The likelihood of an encounter is higher in some parts of the state like rockier areas of Central and Southwest Texas, but you can find them east of Interstate 35,” Brown said. “Some of that is simply related to populations, but it can also be how they stand out in some habitats compared to others.”

Texas tarantulas prefer to burrow in the soil. They do not use webs to capture prey, but rather to line their burrows to prevent collapse, and as a mat for the molting process, Brown said. Females lay 100 to 1,000 eggs in a web constructed like a hammock.

Female tarantulas have lived up to 25 years in captivity, while males live around two to three years in the wild or five to 10 years in captivity once they mature.

Tarantula spider crawling along rocks..
Tarantulas may be big and look scary, but they are not aggressive or venomous. But handling wild tarantulas can lead to a bite akin to a bee sting. (Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Tarantulas on the hunt

Tarantulas are nocturnal predators. Rather than using webs to capture prey, Brown said they rely on ambush to hunt, and feed on insects, other spiders and small lizards, frogs and snakes.

They remain in or around their burrow where they have webbed trip lines that help them “feel” the vibration of approaching prey, she said.

When prey is captured, it is then bitten with the spider’s fangs and injected with venom that has digestive enzymes that kills and liquefies it. Once the prey is soupy, the tarantula sucks up the juices through its mouth. While tarantulas are capable of biting humans, their venom does not react with our body chemistry like black widow or recluse spiders.

Brown said door seals are typically enough to exclude tarantulas from homes because of their size. But in the case of an in-home encounter, she suggests covering it with a glass and sliding paper underneath the spider to move it.

“Tarantulas aren’t aggressive, and they’re not jumpers, so people shouldn’t worry about them,” she said. “But I can also understand people viewing them as a pest if they are finding them in the house.

“The thing to remember is they’re shy and docile unless provoked, and a benefit because they eat pest insects. And this time of year, tarantulas are just hunting for food and a mate.”

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