New World vs. Old World Tarantulas
I am planning on buying my first Old World tarantula next week. All of my tarantulas are New World species and I think I am ready to get my first old world tarantula. Specifically a Togo Starburst Baboon (Heteroscodra Maculata). Which leads to the question: what is the difference between Old World tarantulas and New World tarantulas?
The undetailed answer is that all tarantulas from the Americas are considered New World tarantulas and all of the tarantulas from everywhere else (such as Asia and Africa) are considered Old World tarantulas. But, the difference between New and Old World tarantulas doesn’t end there. Generally, New World tarantulas are considered better tarantulas for beginners to the tarantula keeping hobby and Old World tarantulas should be left to more advanced keepers. Here is why: New World tarantulas tend to be less aggressive and also tend to have less potent venom than Old World tarantulas. The reason for this is that almost all New World species have three lines of defense against predators.
The primary line of defense for New World tarantulas are these barbed “hairs” that they can kick at predators. These “hairs” are called urticating hairs. Urticating hairs are VERY itchy when they get on the skin, the feeling comparative to when fiberglass gets on the skin and if they get in the eyes the person or predator, they can go blind. Some people (like myself) can also have allergic reactions to these hairs. I, personally, get extremely itchy red bumps on my hands, arms and stomach for a few days and sometimes my fingers swell a bit. Different species of New World tarantulas have hairs with varying levels of irritation. Goliath Birdeater tarantulas (Theraphosa Blondi) are supposed to have some of the worst urticating hairs.
The second like of defense of New World tarantulas is that they can shoot their poop. Ideally they shoot it into the eyes of the predator. Only one of my tarantulas has tried to shoot poop at me. When I first held my A. purpurea, Priff, when she was only a sling (baby tarantulas are called slings) she shot a tiny little drop of watery poop in my general direction but missed me. It was actually pretty adorable considering she was only the size of my thumbnail at the time.
The final line of defense that New World tarantulas possess is the one that is most well known, their bite. However, most New World tarantulas do not have very potent venom, the bites of the majority of New World tarantulas are likened to bee stings. The only time a bite from a New World tarantula could be a big deal is if you are allergic. I personally have never been bitten but I keep allergy medication around just incase. New World tarantulas don’t need potent venom since they already have a couple of other lines of defense.
Old World tarantulas only have one line of defense, their bite. This is why they tend to have more potent venom and also tend to be far more aggressive. They can’t shoot their poop nor do they have urticating hairs so they over compensate in the evil- bitey department. Some bites, like that of the beautiful and popular Gooty Sapphire Ornamental (P. metallica) tarantula has been known to cause symptoms such as swelling, numbness, muscle cramping and vomiting in some people. Other old world tarantula bites such as that of the Togo Starburst Baboon have been said to be more like a wasp sting, though I suspect symptoms vary from person to person. The one thing we CAN be sure of is that no tarantula bite causes death. That being said, the majority of tarantula keepers practice a hands- off approach when it comes to Old- World tarantulas.