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 Kyle Campbell, a zoology teacher at Westerville North High School, has 23 tanks in his classroom full of species including an alligator, turtles, snakes, toads, a bearded dragon, crabs, geckos, catfish and a tarantula. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 5 May 2021 But the team saw that blueness seemed unrelated to whether a tarantula was capable of fighting back. Joshua Sokol, New York Times, 24 Sep. 2020 So, who was the one that was most likely to buy a tarantula? Joey Hayden, Dallas News, 10 Sep. 2020 Since Thursday morning, a steady flow of dogs and cats has arrived, as well as birds, snakes, geckos, monitor lizards, a frog, a tarantula and two horses. Kellie Hwang, SFChronicle.com, 25 Aug. 2020 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, 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, 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, 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, 12 Mar. 2020

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

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The first known use of tarantula was in 1561

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Statistics for tarantula

Last Updated

16 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tarantula.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tarantula. Accessed 22 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for tarantula



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 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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