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 tarantulae (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 tarentula) 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 At the time, neighbors claimed to reporters and to law enforcement officials that Mr. Yates had bear cubs, Rottweilers, rabbits, hyenas, monkeys, snakes, a llama, a tarantula and even a young lion. Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, "A 425-Pound Tiger Living in a Harlem Apartment? Yes, It Happened," 18 Apr. 2020 Drunk on the wealth from farming tarantulas, well-to-do villagers can pay off their home loans and acquire even bigger houses, decking them out with more goods. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "There Are No Losers in the Animal Crossing Economy," 15 Apr. 2020 There were no park visitors to see this beautiful sight in West Texas, but bison, birds and even tarantulas came out to see snow earlier this week at Caprock Canyons State Park. Sonia Ramirez, Houston Chronicle, "It was a snow day in April for Caprock Canyons State Park," 16 Apr. 2020 With rubber legs galore, a squirrel tail wing and a squishy chenille body, the bream killer looks like the love child between a hellgrammite and a tarantula. T. Edward Nickens, Field & Stream, "The Best Flies for Catching Panfish," 12 Mar. 2020 Residents regularly spot tarantulas, coyotes and bobcats in their yards and enjoy a short walk to hiking and biking trails that offer sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. CBS News, "World's largest highway overpass for wildlife on track in California," 20 Aug. 2019 We’re talking something right out of Snakes on a Plane: Pythons, scorpions and tarantulas. Andrea Wurzburger, PEOPLE.com, "11 Horrifying Times Animals Made Their Way Onto Airplanes," 10 Dec. 2019 The Anastasia Beverly Hills Halloween Glitter Collection was revealed on the brand's Instagram account on Friday with a series of short videos co-starring an orange-knee tarantula (who is presumably not included with orders). Marci Robin, Allure, "Anastasia Beverly Hills Is Launching Halloween Editions of Its Loose Glitter," 12 Oct. 2019 In the latest installment of Carpool Karaoke, Corden was serenaded by 18-year-old pop prodigy Billie Eilish, who invited him into her family home to see where her career began and, most importantly, meet her pet tarantula. Elizabeth Wolfe And Scottie Andrew, CNN, "Billie Eilish brings James Corden to her house and lets him meet her pet spider in this week's Carpool Karaoke. Watch it here," 20 Dec. 2019

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.

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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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Time Traveler for tarantula

Time Traveler

The first known use of tarantula was in 1561

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Statistics for tarantula

Last Updated

25 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tarantula.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tarantula. Accessed 10 Jul. 2020.

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How to pronounce tarantula (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tarantula

: a large, hairy spider that lives in warm regions


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 tarantulae (audio) , -​ˈrant-​ᵊl-​ˌē How to pronounce tarantulae (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

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More from Merriam-Webster on tarantula

Spanish Central: Translation of tarantula

Nglish: Translation of tarantula for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tarantula

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