tarantula

noun

ta·​ran·​tu·​la tə-ˈran-chə-lə How to pronounce tarantula (audio) -tə-lə How to pronounce tarantula (audio)
-ˈranch-lə,
-ˈrant-
plural tarantulas also tarantulae tə-ˈran-chə-ˌlē How to pronounce tarantula (audio)
-tə-ˌlē;
-ˈranch-ˌlē,
-ˈrant-
1
: any of various large, typically ground-dwelling, hairy, mygalomorph spiders (family Theraphosidae) of warm regions that possess venomous fangs used to subdue and kill prey (such as insects, centipedes, frogs, and mice) caught by ambush or chase and that construct silk-lined burrows but do not build webs to trap food

Note: Tarantulas of the western hemisphere possess barbed, irritating, detachable hairs on the back of the abdomen which may be kicked off as projectiles when the spider is threatened. It is thought that the presence of these defensive hairs may explain the limited aggressiveness of New World tarantulas and the minimal effect (such as redness or swelling) of their venom on humans. Tarantulas of the eastern hemisphere, however, lack these irritating hairs, tend to display greater aggressiveness, and are more likely to inflict painful bites with venom that may sometimes cause severe systemic reactions.

Most spiders bite with a pinching movement, like the grip of human thumb and forefinger. But tarantulas bite straight down, enabling them to take on larger prey.Richard Conniff
Bites of U.S. tarantulas are considered medically benign.Rick Weiss
compare bird spider, baboon spider
2
: a European wolf spider (Lycosa tarantula) formerly held to be the cause of tarantism
Few folk dances have an origin as memorable as the tarantella from southern Italy, which earned its name from a tale involving the tarantula spider.Danielle Poulos

Examples of tarantula in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Do Tarantulas Growl? Some tarantulas, like the Goliath bird-eating tarantula, might rub their hairs together to defend themselves. Katie Liu, Discover Magazine, 29 Feb. 2024 Kids can build block houses, send video postcards, climb a rock wall, and crawl through a human-sized ant hill while observing the museum’s collection of insects, millipedes and tarantulas included. Lauren Dana Ellman, Travel + Leisure, 27 Oct. 2023 When a doctor attempts to formulate a super-nutrient for the benefit of humanity, his chemical reactions cause his tarantula to rapidly grow. Sarah Sprague, EW.com, 19 Oct. 2023 With the ability to create anything with his purple crayon, Harold opens a world of possibilities, from creating terrifying flying tarantulas to producing an airplane on the fly. Tatiana Tenreyro, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Mar. 2024 One night, Jakub faces the bathroom mirror and observes what looks like a small tarantula crawling around under his skin, until its legs pop out of his nose and mouth. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 21 Feb. 2024 No pets allowed, but wildlife — squirrels, birds, the occasional coyote or tarantula — abounds. Kate Bradshaw, The Mercury News, 29 Jan. 2024 Like most spider bites, tarantula bites can cause some swelling, itching, and irritation. Emilia Benton, Women's Health, 30 June 2023 The frame came alive like a giant tarantula, leaving us giddy with the ease of assembly. Melanie D.g. Kaplan, Miami Herald, 30 Jan. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tarantula.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Medieval Latin, from Old Italian tarantola, from Taranto

First Known Use

1561, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of tarantula was in 1561

Dictionary Entries Near tarantula

Cite this Entry

“Tarantula.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tarantula. Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

tarantula

noun
ta·​ran·​tu·​la tə-ˈranch-(ə-)lə How to pronounce tarantula (audio)
-ˈrant-ᵊl-ə
: any of a family of large hairy American spiders that usually move slowly and have a sharp bite but are not very poisonous to human beings

Medical Definition

tarantula

noun
ta·​ran·​tu·​la tə-ˈranch-(ə-)lə How to pronounce tarantula (audio) -ˈrant-ᵊl-ə How to pronounce tarantula (audio)
plural tarantulas also tarantulae -ˈran-chə-ˌlē How to pronounce tarantula (audio) -ˈrant-ᵊl-ˌē How to pronounce tarantula (audio)
1
: any of various large, hairy, typically ground-dwelling spiders (family Theraphosidae) of warm regions that construct silk-lined burrows and that possess a pair of fangs used to inject neurotoxic venom which paralyzes and predigests prey (such as insects or small rodents)

Note: Tarantulas of the western hemisphere possess barbed, detachable, irritating hairs on the back of the abdomen which may be kicked off as projectiles when the spider is threatened. It is thought that the presence of these defensive hairs may explain the limited aggressiveness of New World tarantulas and the minimal effect (such as redness or swelling) of their venom on humans. Tarantulas of the eastern hemisphere, however, lack these irritating hairs, tend to display greater aggressiveness, and are more likely to inflict painful bites with venom that may sometimes cause severe systemic reactions.

2
: a European spider (Lycosa tarantula of the family Lycosidae) popularly held to be the cause of tarantism

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