This absolutely beautiful spider is Ruby, an adult female MEXICAN RED KNEE TARANTULA. This is the species of tarantula which most people are familiar with from pictures or on television/films, as it is one of the most popular species of all due to its colouration. I acquired Ruby in September 2006 when she was still a juvenile and she has grown a lot since then and become very attractive indeed. She is very calm and friendly too as anyone who has met her will know!
It is very unfortunate that tarantulas have such a bad reputation for being nasty and dangerous creatures as it just is not true. Despite being venomous they are really not dangerous to people at all and rarely if ever bite people, despite films often showing them doing this. If a person is bitten by a tarantula the effect is usually no worse than a bee sting as their venom is very weak, so they are not at all the deadly creatures that many people believe them to be.
Tarantulas are actually generally shy and secretive animals and many spend their days hiding under logs etc. or even underground in burrows they create for themselves, but thankfully Ruby here likes to be on display in her enclosure at all times! In the wild Mexican red knee tarantulas spend a lot of time in their deep burrows where they hide from predators such as the coati.
In 2014 I acquired a tiny juvenile Mexican red knee tarantula (about 1cm across) as I love to show children the difference between adults and juveniles of a variety of species when I do my sessions about life cycles and growing & changing in schools! Here it is, looking very different indeed from the very beautiful Ruby!
Tarantulas have to moult or remove their outer body or exoskeleton as they grow and develop, something this little one will do regularly during its early life. Here it is soon after moulting for the first time after I acquired it in 2014, on the right of the picture next to its moulted exoskeleton or exuvia (left):
Here (s)he is a year and a bit later in December 2015 following a few more moults, looking very different indeed and a whole lot more like Ruby!
To date Ruby herself has moulted twelve times since I bought her in September 2006, the moulting process being one of the most fascinating things about tarantulas as they completely renew the whole of their exoskeleton whilst somehow leaving their old exoskeleton in one piece! The picture below shows the type of scene which greets me each time Ruby moults:
It is always a remarkable and unusual sight as it looks like there are two tarantulas, but the one on the bottom right of the picture above is nothing more than the empty outer body (exoskeleton) which the real Ruby (above left) has squeezed herself out of! I always very carefully shape each empty crumpled exoskeleton (correctly termed the exuvia) back into its original shape as much as possible so that I can use them in my talks / presentations. They usually come out pretty well and here are both Ruby’s and the juvenile’s exuviae from when they moulted within days of each other in December 2015!
The first picture below shows one of Ruby’s exuviae with the carapace (head) in place, whereas in the second picture below it has been flipped open to reveal the inside:
It is through the openings in the central part of the body (underneath the carapace) that the tarantula has to pull all of its new legs and fangs, a truly remarkable achievement. You can see these openings more clearly in the two pictures below, with carapace intact first and then removed in the second picture!
Each opening leads into a hollow tunnel and the new legs and fangs are pulled out of these during the long process of moulting, which can take several hours to complete. I have always said that this is one of the most remarkable sights in the natural world and I stand by that claim again today, it is a sight I never tire of seeing!
The two pictures of Ruby below clearly show the difference in colouration between how she looks now (top) and how she looked when I first bought her (bottom). Both the greater depth of the blacks and higher intensity of red/orange colouration in the top picture are very clear to see. Although I’ve always thought of her as being attractive I think she is absolutely stunning now due to the much higher contrast between these colours!
If you look at the picture above very closely you can also see six of her eight eyes! The eight eyes of a tarantula are arranged in a cluster around a small mound at the front of the ‘head’, or carapace as it is correctly named, but despite having so many eyes they do not see very well at all. Instead they rely on the very sensitive hairs on their legs to detect movement and change in their environment, and they even have highly specialised leg hairs which can ‘taste’ the air!
The simple truth is that tarantulas are fascinating to watch grow and also very beautiful animals to look at and admire, which I hope you can see is definitely the case for the lovely Ruby!