You might think that Florida is home to lots of giant tarantulas. After all, it’s got plenty of alligators, big snakes, and other creepy-crawlies. And it’s certainly got plenty of big spiders, too.
Surprisingly, though, there are no native tarantulas in mainland Florida. It’s not entirely clear why that is, since Florida is an ideal habitat for many species of tarantula, but none ever seem to have settled here.
However, there is one non-native tarantula species that’s taken up residence. And a mysterious species from the Florida Keys that may or may not be native, and may not even exist anymore. Plus, one species of very tarantula-like spider that’s only recently been discovered.
Tarantulas are secretive spiders that spend almost all of their time in burrows underground, so perhaps the next new species discovered in Florida will be a tarantula!
3 Tarantulas in Florida
1. Mexican red rump
Scientific name: Brachypelma vagans
These tarantulas are native to Mexico and much of Central America. It’s a tropical species that was most likely introduced to Florida through the pet trade. A breeding population appears to have been established in Southern Florida, and it’s possible that there’s more than one colony of them.
This is a particularly popular species in the exotic pet trade. They’re a good size, and they’re docile and easy to handle. Plus, in the rare event that they bite, their venom is mild and unlikely to cause any problems.
The climate of southern Florida, along with it’s soil composition, is very similar to that of the Yucatan in Mexico, where this species is present in large numbers. So, when pet tarantulas escaped or were released when owners grew tired of caring for them (they can live for decades) they found themselves in an environment very much like the one they evolved to live in.
In fact, biologists are a bit puzzled by the relative lack of expansion on the part of these tarantulas. The best explanation they can offer is that tarantulas are a sedentary animals, rarely exploring much beyond their burrow. As a result, this invasive species is actually restricting itself from spreading throughout the region.
2. Florida Golden Chestnut
Scientific name: Brachypelma aureoceps
A somewhat mysterious species, this tarantula is known only from a single female specimen captured in the Florida keys. It’s even possible that that individual was imported from Mexico, but nobody knows for sure.
The species was first described in 1917, as a spider with a body length of about 2 inches and a legspan of roughly 4 inches, giving it a similar size to the Texas brown tarantula common throughout much of the south. It had a dark brown body with longer, yellow hairs along it’s abdomen and legs. While it was first described in 1917, the specimen was actually collected prior to 1870.
So, while some claim it’s most likely a Mexican species accidentally imported with building materials, it’s equally possible it was a member of an already endangered species of native tarantula, which may or may not still be around today. After all, tarantula spend almost all of their time hidden underground- it’s certainly not impossible for a rare species to go unnoticed.
3. Pine Rockland Trapdoor Spider
Scientific name: Ummidia richmond
This one was the most recently discovered species of tarantulas in Florida. It’s also the only spider species native to mainland Florida that’s related to tarantulas, although it isn’t a true tarantula itself. It’s very similar, though. So it’s only an honorary Florida tarantula.
Trapdoor spiders, like tarantulas, spend almost their entire lives in burrows underground, not even leaving to hunt. They tend to be largish, big bodied spiders that don’t spin webs, but instead line their burrows with silk. Trapdoor spiders will cover the mouth of their burrow with a door made of silk covered in dirt. This helps to keep it hidden. They’ll lay silk “tripwires” around the mouth of their burrow, too, so that they’re alerted when an insect is walking by and can run out and pounce on them.
The Pine Rockland Trapdoor spider appears to be a rare, likely endangered species. The only known population of this spider is in the area immediately surrounding Naval Air Station Richmond in South Florida.