Little Known Tarantula Traits

ByABC News
January 8, 2001, 5:13 PM

Jan. 4 -- Sam Marshall was a lad of 13 from the suburbs of New York City when he saw his first tarantula while on a family vacation in New Mexico. It was love at first sight.

Three decades later, he is possibly the worlds foremost authority on these hairy spiders that look far more menacing than they actually are. He has traveled the world in search of tarantulas, finding some that are so large they make the native tarantulas of the American southwest look like midgets, and he has established an extensive research program at Hiram College in Ohio.

But it all began with that family outing, and his first tarantula.

It was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen, he says.

Mythical, But Poorly Understood

By the time he turned 17 he had already accumulated a large collection of tarantulas, and they continued to fascinate him through high school and college. While working on his degree in biology, he set out to learn more about them. He says now he didnt find much.

Very little was known about them, he says. Practically nobody was studying them.

Despite their somewhat awesome appearance, tarantulas seemed a bit dull to most spider specialists, he says. It didnt seem like they did a whole lot, other than lurking in the dark of night while waiting for some unsuspecting prey to wander by.

So Marshall made it his obsession, and he has found that tarantulas are anything but dull. Maybe not as interesting as the myths that surrounds them, like they can jump great heights and race across a patio to bite you on the leg. They cant do either.

The other myth that needs to be laid to rest is they can kill you with a poisonous bite.

No tarantulas have ever been known to kill anybody, he says. Some of them will bite if provoked, even the native species of the Southwest, but the wound generally feels like a bee sting and causes no lasting injury.

It might be tender for awhile, but I dont think it would be as dangerous as a cat bite, Marshall says.