Definition of tarantula in US English:



  • 1A large hairy spider found chiefly in tropical and subtropical America, some kinds of which are able to catch small lizards, frogs, and birds.

    Family Theraphosidae, suborder Mygalomorphae: numerous species

    • ‘Alternatively, the foot secretions may have evolved independently in tarantulas to help the relatively large spiders move around safely, he adds.’
    • ‘He also came face to face with a bearded dragon - an Australian lizard, stick insects and a tarantula.’
    • ‘We saw tarantulas and spiders and bugs crawling all over the place!’
    • ‘Yesterday, he took his Rainforest Roadshow to the school and introduced the children to tropical insects such as millipedes, tarantulas and scorpions.’
    • ‘He and colleagues studied several other spider species and so far have found tarantulas to be the only species that use silken secretions from their feet.’
    • ‘Known for its rugged canyons, expansive rolling hills of oak woodlands, and healthy population of tarantulas, the 87,000-acre park offers more than 250 miles of trails.’
    • ‘Next, they listened to a brief taped story about a spider while they viewed three photographs of a tarantula.’
    • ‘Researchers are using two species in Belize, the redrump tarantula and the cinnamon tarantula, implanted with radio transponders to help monitor forest degradation.’
    • ‘They had everything from hideous beetles to hairy tarantulas that looked as though they could give an Irish wolfhound a run for its money.’
    • ‘The group got to witness pure nature and animals like toucans, howler monkeys, tarantulas and various lizards.’
    • ‘Not so long ago the sight of a large, brown, hairy tarantula was enough to inspire fear and loathing in everyone except the most ardent enthusiast.’
    • ‘These hot and dry rocky slopes support scorpions, tarantulas, collared lizards, pygmy rattlesnakes, roadrunners, and prickly pear cacti.’
    • ‘Like chili plants, tarantulas produce agony-inflicting toxins designed to repel would-be predators, researchers say.’
    • ‘An evolutionary biologist at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, specializes in trapdoor and funnel-web spiders, and tarantulas.’
    • ‘In fact in much of their behaviour Australia's tarantulas act less like spiders and more like mammals, he says.’
    • ‘The Australian spider is distantly related to our tarantulas, which are barely toxic.’
    • ‘Primitive humans would have needed to avoid certain species of animals, as we do now, such as venomous snakes, poisonous frogs, tarantulas and wolves.’
    • ‘If your terrarium is going to be home to any live animals, such as lizards, tarantulas, or other wildlife, make sure you include a water source, by embedding a shallow dish into the soil and keeping it filled with fresh water.’
    • ‘Baboon spiders or tarantulas, as they are known outside Africa, are the giants of the spider world.’
    • ‘The children were given the chance to handle giant snails, snake, frogs, tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes and cockroaches.’
  • 2A large black wolf spider of southern Europe, whose bite was formerly believed to cause tarantism.

    Lycosa tarentula, family Lycosidae

    • ‘By means of dancing and sweating, those bitten by tarantulas endeavor to expel the infected vapors.’
    • ‘Tarantism, that is, the disease resulting from having been bitten by a tarantula, was well known in southern Europe, and references to it permeated medical literature, music, and folklore for 500 years or more.’


Mid 16th century: from medieval Latin, from Old Italian tarantola ‘tarantula’, from the name of the seaport Taranto. Compare with tarantella and tarantism.