The name tarantula is generally applied to any large, hairy spider, especially to the furry, bird eating spiders of South America.

Hanging upside down

To help spiders climb they have tiny hairs on their feet that look like loo brushes, these act as hands which hold onto whatever they can.  Holding on is especially important for tarantulas.  Despite appearances tarantulas are actually very fragile and a fall from just a few inches could injure a tarantula's sensitive abdomen and even prove fatal.  But, scientists have wondered, how can these holding hairs support the weight of the heavier tarantula alone?

Spiders use all kinds of different silks for different purposes - to spin webs, make nests, protect their eggs, defend themselves, hang from ceilings and capture and wrap up their prey.  Unlike other spiders tarantulas don’t use their silk to spin webs but do use it to line their burrows.  Some scientists argued that they used silk from their spinnerets to make their feet sticky, but to discover the truth Claire Rind from the University of Newcastle led an experiment.  Tarantulas were put in glass boxes which were then turned leaving them clinging to the sides of the slippery surface.  Using microscopic slides and video footage they saw that only the arachnid's feet touched the glass, and where they had slipped slightly thirty to forty silken threads were left behind. But how do they know these threads came from the creepy crawly’s feet?

Using an electron microscope they then looked at the tarantulas feet and found tiny silk-producing taps or ‘spigots’ amongst the loo-brush hairs.  Spiders create silk by letting liquid out of little taps which they can turn on or off.  This liquid becomes solid as it leaves the spiders body and is used for a variety of purposes.  In the experiment the scientists examined several species of tarantula covering a broad spectrum of the tarantula family. The evidence strongly suggests that all tarantulas use silk-producing taps in their feet to 'hold on' in this way.

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