ta·​ran·​tu·​la | \ tə-ˈran-chə-lə How to pronounce tarantula (audio) , -tə-lə; -ˈranch-lə, -ˈrant- \
plural tarantulas also tarantulae\ tə-​ˈran-​chə-​ˌlē How to pronounce tarantula (audio) , -​tə-​ˌlē ; -​ˈranch-​ˌlē , -​ˈrant-​ \

Definition of tarantula

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 This tarantula is native to the Amazon Rainforest, but Preston’s team ordered theirs from a biological supply company. Manasee Wagh, Popular Mechanics, 28 July 2022 In his hotel room 007 escapes an attempt to kill him with a tarantula in his bed. John Mariani, Forbes, 13 June 2022 There’s a tarantula creeping up the mesh door of our tent. Stephanie Pearson, Outside Online, 10 Mar. 2020 In this animated film, a wolf, python, shark, piranha and tarantula set out to rehab their images and walk the straight and narrow instead. Marisa Lascala, Good Housekeeping, 10 May 2022 In other news, scientists have identified a tarantula-killing worm and named it for a very different personality: actor Jeff Daniels. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 22 Jan. 2022 Chomphuphuang then embarked on a field trip, with Sippawat and fellow arachnologist Chaowalit Songsangchote, to confirm that the tarantula was previously undiscovered. NBC News, 21 Jan. 2022 The team named the new tarantula after Thai king Taksin the Great, who governed Tak province in the 18th century, according to George Dvorsky for Gizmodo. Corryn Wetzel, Smithsonian Magazine, 20 Jan. 2022 Dillman said a tarantula infected with jeffdanielsi could take months to die of starvation, but that the infection was lethal. Jeevan Ravindran, CNN, 20 Jan. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tarantula.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of tarantula

1561, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for tarantula

Medieval Latin, from Old Italian tarantola, from Taranto

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The first known use of tarantula was in 1561

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Dictionary Entries Near tarantula



tarantula hawk

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Last Updated

8 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tarantula.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tarantula. Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for tarantula


ta·​ran·​tu·​la | \ tə-ˈran-chə-lə How to pronounce tarantula (audio) \

Kids Definition of tarantula

: a large hairy spider of warm regions of North and South America whose bite may be painful but is usually not serious to humans except for a few South American species


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) \

Medical Definition of tarantula

1 : a European spider (Lycosa tarentula of the family Lycosidae) popularly held to be the cause of tarantism
2 : any of a family (Theraphosidae) of large hairy American spiders that are typically rather sluggish and capable of biting sharply though most forms are not significantly poisonous to humans

More from Merriam-Webster on tarantula

Nglish: Translation of tarantula for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tarantula


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