Online Encyclopedia

TARANTULA

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 416 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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TARANTULA, strictly speaking, a large spider (Lycosa tarantula), which takes its name from the town of Taranto (Tarentum) in Apulia, near which it occurs and where it was formerly believed to be the cause of the malady known as "tarantism." This spider belongs to the family Lycosidae, and has numerous allies, equalling or surpassing it in size, in various parts of the world, the genus Lycosa being almost cosmopolitan in distribution. The tarantula, like all its allies, spins no web as a snare but catches its prey by activity and speed of foot. It lives on dry, well-drained ground, and digs a deep burrow lined with silk to pre-vent the infall of loose particles of soil. In the winter it covers the orifice of this burrow with a layer of silk, and lies dormant underground until the return of spring. It also uses the burrow as a safe retreat during moulting and guards its cocoon and young in its depths. It lives for several years. The male is approximately the same size as the female, but in neither sex does the length of the body surpass three-quarters of an inch. Like all spiders, the tarantula possesses poison glands in its jaws, but there is not a particle of trustworthy evidence that the secretion of these glands is more virulent than that of other spiders of the same size, and ,the medieval belief that the bite of the spider gave rise to tarantism has long been abandoned. According to traditional accounts the first symptom of this disorder was usually a state of depression and lethargy. From this the sufferer could only be roused by music, which excited an overpowering desire to dance until the performer fell to the ground bathed in profuse perspiration, when the cure, at all events for the time, was supposed to be effected. This mania attacked both men and women, young and old alike, women being more susceptible than men. It was also considered to be highly infectious and to spread rapidly from person to person until whole areas were affected. The name tarantella, in use at the present time, applies both to a dance still in vogue in Southern Italy and also to musical pieces resembling in their stimulating measures those that were necessary to rouse to activity the sufferer from tarantism in the middle ages. In recent times the term tarantula has been applied indiscriminately to many different kinds of large spiders in no way related to Lycosa tarantula; and to at least one Arachnid belonging to a distinct order. In most parts of America, for example, where English is spoken, species of Aviculariidae, or " Bird-eating " spiders of various genera, areinvariably called tarantulas. These spiders are very much larger and more venomous than the largest of the Lycosidae, and in the Southern states of North America the species of wasps that destroy them have been called tarantula hawks. In Queensland one of the largest local spiders, known as Holconia immanis, a member of the family Clubionidae, bears the name tarantula; and in Egypt it was a common practice of the British soldiers to put together scorpions and tarantulas, the latter in this instance being specimens of the large and formidable desert-haunting Arachnid, Galeodes lucasii, a member of the order Solifugae. Similarly in South Africa species of the genus Soipuga, another member of the Solifugae, were employed for the same purpose under the name tarantula. Finally the name Tarantula, in a scientific and systematic sense, was first given by Fabricius to a Ceylonese species of amblypygous Pedipalpi, still sometimes quoted as Phrynus lunatus. (R. I. P.)
End of Article: TARANTULA
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