Wildlife Watch: Pink-Toed Tarantulas

March 12, 2014

To most people, the words “giant hairy spider” send chills down the spine and basically give people the "heebe geebees.” For me, as a naturalist, I love finding big hairy spiders and it gives me great pleasure in finding a ficus tree (strangler fig type) full of holes with lots of tarantulas prowling under the hours of darkness. 

The pink-toed tarantula is a common resident in the Upper Amazon Basin, but most travelers to the region never see one. Of course there are certain trees where International Expeditions' guides know they can find a tarantula if in the area at dusk or on a night excursion during our Amazon River cruises. Most of the guides prefer to just shine a light on them for folks to observe them, but I actually enjoy doing a little impromptu program with a nice female pink-toed as they are wonderful subjects for education and spiders need all of the help they can get in this regard. Spiders, like reptiles get a pretty bad rap as being ugly, dangerous and thoroughly disgusting. Often, with just a little help from your IE naturalist guide, that impression can be “somewhat” altered or completely reversed in some people.

The pink-toed tarantula is indeed a large and very hairy spider. Each hair is tipped in silver so it makes for a glistening appearance and makes the hairs actually look longer than they truly are. As their name suggests, each leg is tipped in a pink-colored toe. Spiders are extremely important creatures as they are predators of a great variety of creatures: everything from insects and other arachnids to amphibians, reptiles and small birds. Pink-toed tarantulas are large enough to feed on a big variety of insects, common in the Upper Amazon Basin, but they are also capable of taking small frogs and lizards as well. The pink-toed tarantula has formidable fangs that can easily penetrate and subdue prey. The venom is not extremely toxic, but due to the size of the fangs a tarantula bite does hurt (first hand experience!). Of course, if you are not handling or “messing around” with a big spider you certainly do not run the risk of being bitten.

These spiders are often found on dead trees containing cavities even during high-water season. There are a few trees in the Pacaya-Samiria where I know I can find a few pink-toes, especially if the water is high. The spiders come out at dark and just hang out of the tree trunk waiting for an unsuspecting insect or frog to appear within reach of the eight-legged predators. The last little trick that guides have in regards to looking for spiders is their eye shine. Spiders eyes reflect in the beam of a light and the golden sparkles that glisten in the beam of light may just be a very big and hairy spider.

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.