What Do Tarantulas Eat?

Favorite foods and the tarantula way to feed

Tarantula
GK Hart/Vikki Hart/ Stone/ Getty images

Tarantulas are carnivores. Depending on their size, tarantulas will eat insects or even larger prey, such as frogs, mice and birds.

Favorite Foods 

They eat all kinds of insects, especially larger ones like crickets and grasshoppers, June beetles, cicadas, millipedes, caterpillars and other spiders. Larger tarantulas will also eat frogs, toads, small rodents, lizards, bats and small snakes. A South American species, the Goliath birdeater, is known to eat small birds as well, although this makes up only a small part of their diet.

Feeding Style

Like other spiders, tarantulas cannot eat their prey in solid form. When a tarantula captures a live meal, it first bites the prey with its sharp fangs, also known as the chelicerae, and then injects it with a paralyzing venom. Once the prey is immobilized, the tarantula secretes digestive enzymes that liquifies the prey. The fangs are also used to chew or break down the prey item along with sharp, jagged plates that are located near the fangs that can also aid in cutting or crushing food. The spider then sucks up its meal using straw-like mouthparts under its fangs.

A tarantula has a "sucking stomach." When the sucking stomach's powerful muscles contract, the stomach size increases, creating a strong sucking action that permits the tarantula to suck its liquefied prey up through the mouth and into the intestines.

Once the liquefied food enters the intestines, it is broken down into particles small enough to pass through the intestine walls into the blood stream where it is distributed throughout the body.

After feeding, the leftovers are formed into a small ball by the tarantula and thrown away. 

On the Hunt

Some genera of tarantulas hunt prey primarily in trees; others hunt on or near the ground. All tarantulas can produce silk—while tree-dwelling species will typically reside in a silken "tube tent", terrestrial species will line their burrows with silk to stabilize the burrow wall and facilitate climbing up and down.

Tarantulas as a Meal

Tarantulas look scary but they too are an object of predation. The most specialized predator that likes to prey on tarantulas is actually an insect, a large member of the wasp family, Hemipepsis ustulata, also known as a "tarantula hawk." The largest tarantula hawks will track, attack and kill large tarantulas.

Tarantula hawks use scent tracking to find the lair of a tarantula. To capture the spider, the wasp must deliver a sting to the spider's underside, exploiting the thin membrane between the leg segments. The sting paralyzes the spider, and then the wasp drags it back into its burrow and deposits an egg on the spider's abdomen. The wasp then seals the spider in its burrow and flies off to search for more food. The wasp larva hatches and feeds on the spider's non-essential parts and, as it approaches pupation, it consumes the remainder. 

Giant centipedes and humans are also known to prey on tarantulas. Tarantulas are considered a delicacy by certain cultures in Venezuela and Cambodia. They can be roasted over an open fire to remove the hairs, which can otherwise cause an itch or skin irritation to humans, and then they are eaten.