A Brown Tarantula near McKinney, Texas

This article by Jerry Cates and Elizabeth Friesenhahn, first published on 27 November 2012, was last revised on 8 July 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 13:05(07).


Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); dorsum: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 12 May 2012

100. Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); dorsum: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX — 12 May 2012

On 12 May 2012 Elizabeth Friesenhahn wrote the following email:

“Hi Jerry,

Thought you might like this photo of a tarantula I found in my Garden, burrowing under a landscape timber. Looks like she (or he) just molted. I love the bluish tint to the bristles. What species do you think it is?


Elizabeth Friesenhahn”

Her photos (all taken with an Apple iPhone 4) were of a female brown tarantula, at first in its (now uncovered) underground burrow, later in a large jar in Elizabeth’s home, then as it was being returned to her garden a few days later, and finally under a landscaping timber, ensconced in its new lair.

The bright blue tint of its fresh coating of hairs faded slowly, over the next few days, to the more drab brown typical of the genus. Elizabeth placed it in captivity in a large jar so her grandchildren could study it during their regular visits, then watched it — and photographed it — until finally returning it to her garden. There it wandered back under a landscaping timber, returning to its earlier life as a denizen amongst the herbs and flowers, stalking its prey and enjoying a life of freedom.

Females of these spiders live many years, more than twenty in captivity, probably less in the wild; the males do not fare so well, as they live but one or two years, victims of their incessant search for females in favor of picking a good spot to settle down in and relax.

Elizabeth’s other photos are posted following the taxonomical notes on this animal, below. Though it is obvious this is a female — due to the fact the pedipalps (the short, diminutive leg-appearing appendages in front of the face) are not swollen at their distal ends to form the male organs of intromission — and is most likely a member of the genus Aphonopelma, we cannot identify it to species. Species determination requires examining its internal genitalia, postmortem, under the microscope, and even then — inasmuch as the characters of the male genitalia are more definitive of speciation than those of the female in this genus — such an examination might still fall short of producing a firm conclusion regarding her precise identity.

I asked Elizabeth to share with us some of her experiences with this spider:

“She had a fairly deep pit up under a landscape timber under my cauliflower plants. I was weeding when I saw a frog (see fig. 100 — the frog is in the lower right corner). The frog hopped underneath the timber and I pulled it back and found this lovely spider. I noted what appeared to be a brown spider and thought it was another tarantula that had been killed, but after reading a bit I realized it was her molted skin. After I emailed you and did some reading on the American Tarantula Society website, I thought I might get a closer look at her. She is in a big jar (with a lid that has slots for ventilation) about 6-inches of potting mixture and a spot of water in a lid. She is very quiet. I will release her back to where I found her in a couple of days. Wanted my grandchildren to see her up close and learn about how beneficial they are.

Later she wrote more:

I released her on 16 May, and she scurried across the garden, settling under a landscape timber. The last photo, taken the next day, shows her under the timber, where she seems to have taken up housekeeping for the time being.”



  • Kingdom Animalia (ahn-uh-MAYHL-yuh)  — first described in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus [23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778], using the Latin word animal = “a living being,” from the Latin word anima = “vital breath”, to refer to multicellular, eukaryotic organisms whose body plans become fixed during development, some of which undergo additional processes of metamorphosis later in their lives; most of which are motile, and thus exhibit spontaneous and independent movements; and all of whom are heterotrophs that feed by ingesting other organisms or their products;
  • Phylum Arthropoda (ahr-THROPP-uh-duh) first described in 1829 by the French zoologist Pierre André Latreille [November 20, 1762 – February 6, 1833], using the two Greek roots αρθρον (AR-thron) = jointed + ποδ (pawd) = foot, in an obvious reference to animals with jointed feet, but in the more narrow context of the invertebrates, which have segmented bodies as well as jointed appendages;
  • Subphylum Chelicerata (Kehl-iss-uh-RAH-tah) — first described in 1901 by the German zoologist Richard Heymons [1867 – 1943] using the Greek noun χηλη (KEY-lay) = a claw, talon, or hoof + the Greek noun κερας (Ser-as) = an animal’s horn + the Latin suffix ata — which by convention is suffixed to the names of animal subdivisions — to refer to animals that have specialized appendages before the mouth that they use in feeding, capturing and securing prey and that — in the case of spiders — are further equipped to inject venom and digestive agents into their prey;
  • Class Arachnida (uh-RAKH-nuh-duh) first described in 1812 by the French naturalist and zoologist Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier [August 23, 1769 – May 13, 1832], usually referred to as Georges Cuvier, using the Greek noun αραχης (uh-RAH-kes) = a spider, in reference to all eight-legged arthropods, including such disparate animals as ticks, mites, scorpions, harvestmen, solpugids, and spiders;
  • Order Araneae (uh-RAY-neh-ee) — first described in 1757 by the Swedish entomologist and arachnologist Carl Alexander Clerck [1709 – 22 July 1765], who used the Latin word aranea = a spider or a spider’s web, to refer to eight legged arthropods that spin webs.;
  • Suborder Opisthothelae (Oh-pis-thoh-THEE-lee) — first described in 1990 by the American arachnologists Richard C. Brusca and Gary J. Brusca, who used the Greek words οπισθεν (oh-PIS-thehn) = behind, at the back, yet to come + θηλη (THEE-lee) = nipple or teat, to distinguish this grouping of spiders from the more primitive spiders in the suborder Mesothelae, in that certain characters (e.g., tergite plates, ganglia in the abdomen, and — in particular, inasmuch as the suborder name is a direct reference thereto — median-positioned spinnerets) of the latter are absent in the former; thus spiders in this suborder have spinnerets positioned at the hindmost portion of the abdomen;
  • Infraorder Mygalomorphae (My-GAL-oh-MOHR-fee) — from the Greek words μυγαλη (MY-guhl-e) = a field mouse + μορφη (MOHR-fee) = form, shape, figure, to refer to spiders having the size and form of a mouse;
  • Superfamily Theraphosoidea (theyr-uh-foss-OY-dee-uh) — borrowed from the family name Theraphosidae, using the Greek words θηρα (THER-ah) = hunting, the chase, eager pursuit + φως (foss) = light + -oidea, a suffix used to indicate a superfamily of animals;
  • Family Theraphosidae (theyr-uh-FOSS-uh-dee) — first described in  1870 by the Swedish arachnologist Tord Tamerlan Teodor Thorell (May 3, 1830 – December 22, 1901), using the Greek words θηρα (THER-ah) = hunting, the chase, eager pursuit + φως (foss) = light + -idae, a suffix used to indicate a family of animals;
  • Subfamily Theraphosinae (theyr-uh-FOSS-en-ee) — borrowed from the family name Theraphosidae, using the Greek words θηρα (THER-ah) = hunting, the chase, eager pursuit + φως (foss) = light + -inae, a suffix used to indicate a subfamily of animals;
  • Genus Aphonopelma (AAY-fohn-oh-PEHL-muh) — first described in 1901 by the British zoologist Reginald Innes Pocock (4 March 1863 – 9 August 1947), using the Greek prefix α- (aa-) = the negation of + -φωνη- (fone) = sound, voice + πελμα (PEHL-muh) = sole of foot or shoe, in reference to Theraphosid spiders that are without organs of stridulation on their appendages;
  • Species: some 90 species of tarantulas in the genus Aphonopelma have been described. The genus includes most North American tarantulas north of Mexico and a significant fraction of the tarantulas of Central America. Most have large bodies and leg spans, have urticating hairs on their abdomens, and do well in captivity. Identification to species level is difficult, especially for species that are brown or black without conspicuous markings.


Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); habitus: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 12 May 2012

101. Habitus in context

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); cast skin: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 12 May 2012

102. Cast skin

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); dorsal abdomen: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 12 May 2012

103. Dorsal abdomen

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); dorsum: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 13 May 2012

104. Dorsum

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); eyes: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 13 May 2012

105. Eyes

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); a helping hand: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 16 May 2012

106. A helping hand

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); from the side: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 16 May 2012

107. From the side

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); back on the ground: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 16 May 2012

108. Back on the ground

Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma spp.); back in the burrow: Elizabeth Friesenhahn, near McKinney, TX --- 17 May 2012

109. Back in its burrow

Anatomy: in process

Behavior: in process

Common Names: in process

Distinguishing Characteristics: in process

Distribution: in process

Physiology: in process

Mythology: in process

Similar Families: in process




Questions? Corrections? Comments? e-mail jerry.cates@bugsinthenews.info. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.

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