TARANTULA - Theraphosidae - Aphonompelma sp.
This photo of a live tarantula in the cave was taken by Stephan Hlohowskyj on October 27, 2015. The location is the Millipede Tomb Room, which abuts the Tarantula Room. Stephan is the Laboratory Manager of the Geosciences Department at the University of Arizona. He was in the cave to take water samples at the time.
Size: Approximately 5 cm Group Guild Status
Incidental N/A Rare
Until recently, the only record of a tarantula occurring in the cave was the remains of a single individual found on the top of a large breakdown block in the Tarantula Room by the original explorers. Chitinous materials (as the exoskeleton of the tarantula) may persist in drier portions of caves for many years. The remains of this specific animal are the source of the name for this room in the cave (Gary Tenen, Kartchner Caverns co-discoverer, personal communication). A live animal was found in the cave for the first time on October 27, 2015 by Stephan Hlohowskyj during a water sampling trip in the cave. The animal was found in the Millipede Tomb Room, which abuts the Tarantula Room. During 2018 a tarantula was seen regularly for several months in the vicinity of the Tarantula Room.
Tarantulas spend much of their lives underground, but usually in burrows or beneath objects. Tarantulas do occasionally enter caves, particularly in the tropics, and there is even a Mexican genus – Hemirrhagus (Speleopelma) which contains several eyeless, cave-adapted species. One of these, an undescribed species, lives over 2 kilometers deep in a cave in Chiapas (Ribera and Juberthie 1994). However, most tarantulas that enter caves are exploring habitats not unlike an over-sized burrow in the earth that they might normally occupy, and are really not outside of their “normal” environment when they enter the entrance areas of caves. Whether local epigean species obtain any significant benefit from doing so is not known, but it is reasonable to assume they would take available prey they might encounter in the cave. Until we have additional information on this species in the cave that shows a positive connection with the ecology we consider it an incidental occurrence.
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