One of the common questions we receive at MBHI is “are tarantulas friendly?” The answer is not a simple yes or no. It entirely depends on the tarantula. Not just the species, but the individual. Most people are shocked to find out that each tarantula possesses a unique temperament, and depending on their behavior, one can tell if they’ll allow you to pick them up.
New world tarantulas (the species from North and South America) are easily recognized by their fuzzy, muppet-like appearance. You might already be aware that their hairs (not true hair but actually referred to as “setae”) serve sensory purposes: tarantulas cannot see, smell or hear, so they rely on their setae to feel around their environment. They can also use them defensively. The hair on their abdomen can be kicked off into the eyes or nose of a prying predator, causing severe irritation in small mammals, birds, and reptiles. One immediate indication that a tarantula does not want to be held is the presence or absence of a bald spot on their abdomen.
Note the picture above. The Chilean rose-hair tarantula on the left (Rosie) is clearly hand-friendly (being that she’s in my hand), whereas the Mexican red-knee tarantula on the right (Carlos) has a noticeable bald spot on her abdomen. At MBHI, we obviously care about our animals and aren’t deliberately provoking tarantulas into a state of distress. Carlos is just a jumpy spider (in the metaphorical sense: tarantulas don’t jump), and will sometimes kick hair if she is unwittingly startled by us when we clean her enclosure. Yet the Mexican red-knee is a popular species for hobbyists because they usually possess a docile temperament.
If a tarantula is provoked further, they will assume a threat pose. It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that the tarantula shown above should be left alone. It’s also important to note, that even if a tarantula allows you to pick them up, you should resist the temptation to pet them (it’s difficult, I know). Keep in mind that those hairs are picking up everything happening around them, and they have no idea what is touching them or why. You can’t explain to a tarantula that you just think it’s cute.