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Answers to Kids' Questions About Spiders

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

The following questions were answered by zoo biologist Ellen Dierenfeld and entomologist John VanDyk.

Q: What is the best food to feed a tarantula?
A: Tarantulas eat crickets, except when going into molt.

Q: Have you ever worked with a tarantula?
A: I have handled tarantulas. I think many people are afraid of them because of their size and the myth that they are really dangerous. Tarantulas are spiders (eight legs) and all spiders have venom glands. Spiders rarely bite people and there are only a few that are dangerously venomous. In fact, black widows and brown recluse spiders can inflict more serious bites than tarantulas.

Q: Do tarantulas catch insects?
A: Yes. Tarantulas will eat lots of things that are small enough, including most insects and even some small vertebrates. They may specialize on certain prey, such as millipedes or desert beetles. They catch their prey instead of spinning webs like a lot of spiders. Did you know that female tarantulas can live as long as 20 years?

Q: Is it really hair on spider legs?
A: Spiders have hair all over their body. Most of the spiders'hair have nerve endings inside them, making them very, very sensitive. That helps spiders to know what's going on around them.

Q: What is the most poisonous spider?
A: Probably the Sydney funnel web spider found only around Sydney, Australia. Its bite can kill and its fangs can bite right through fingernails! In the United States, the dangerous spiders we have are the black widow and brown recluse spiders.

Q: What would happen to you if you were bitten by the most poisonous spider?
A: You would die, unless you were quickly rushed to a hospital that had the proper antidote for the spider venom.

Q: What do spiders eat?
A: Spiders eat insects by drinking up their juices. Even though insects do not have a closed circulatory system like we do, they still have blood. It is this blood that spiders eat. First they inject a substance that paralyzes the insect, then they suck out the insides. Gory, isn't it?

Q: What spider makes the largest web?
A: I'm not sure. A good contender, though, would be a species in the genus Tylorida from New Guinea. It makes webs that are over one meter high!

Q: What is a spider's web made of?
A: The spider makes silk from its silk glands. This silk is made of protein. The result is a material that is very light yet very strong.

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