A friend sent me this question from her son and asked if I could help with an answer. Were there any tarantulas around when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth? And what would have happened if they had bumped into each other…?
The dinosaurs were a group of reptiles that lived on the Earth millions of years ago. Then, about 65 million years ago, something happened that killed all the dinosaurs and most of the other living creatures on Earth. We describe this as a ‘mass extinction event’ and you can read more about it in my answer to the question “why did the dinosaurs die?”
We can study fossils to learn about the dinosaurs’ lives but most of the fossils we have founds are bones and teeth. However, occasionally, scientists find fossils that show us what dinosaur skin was like: we think it would have been scaly and soft, like the skin on birds’ feet.
Tarantulas are large, hairy spiders that live in underground burrows in the rainforests and jungles of Central and South America. Tarantulas hunt at night and they like to eat insects, beetles and grasshoppers. They have fangs that they use when they are hunting to bite and inject venom into their prey.
Scientists have found fossilised remains of tarantulas dating from the Triassic period, which tells us that these spiders would have lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.
So, could a tarantula bite a dinosaur?
Well, we know that tarantulas and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time, so they may well have interacted with each other. But would a tarnatula have preyed on a dinosaur?
One type of tarantula, the Goliath birdeater, has been known to eat small rodents, frogs, toads, lizards and snakes, but nothing as big as a dinosaur!
So, I think it’s unlikely that they would have hunted them as prey. But, I think it’s possible that they might have bitten dinosaurs in self-defence, for example if their underground burrows were dug up or disturbed. Although some tarantulas release hairs from their body as a defence mechanism, which can itch and sting if they get onto another animal’s skin or into its eyes.