Tarantulas have captured the imagination of many people. They’re big, hairy spiders, and those who keep them as pets know they’re usually gentle giants. Most tarantula species are remarkably docile (it’s common for wild-caught tarantulas to be kept as pets, and even handled regularly with no issues), and even when they’re provoked into biting the bite is no worse than a bee sting.
In this article we look at 5 of the most common tarantulas in New Mexico. They’re actually very common in New Mexico, but tarantulas in the wild are secretive creatures.
They’re nocturnal, and they spent the hot daylight hours hiding out in their burrows. For that reason, they’re difficult to observe and for many species we know little more than what they look like and where they’ve been found.
5 Tarantulas in New Mexico
1. Carlsbad Green Tarantula
Scientific name: Aphonopelma gabeli
This species is named for the green hue of it’s iridescent body hairs. At first glance it appears dark brown or black, and it’s often only on close observation of captive specimens that the green colors are visible.
They’re common in northeast New Mexico, where residents often spot them crossing roads and highways. They’re also very popular in the exotic pet trade, where they’re unique color and disproportionately large chelicerae give them a distinctive appearance.
2. Desert Tarantula
Scientific name: Aphonopelma chalcodes
One of the most commonly spottted species in the state, these tarantulas actually range over most of the Southwest and into parts of Mexico. They spend the day hidden in burrows, emerging at night when the temperature is cooler.
The entrance to the burrow is surrounded with silk, and often the tarantula will capture most of its prey right there at the entrance to the burrow when it walks across the web. Females can live for up to 30 years, and males commonly live 10 years.
This makes them popular pets, and owners often grow very attached to their tarantulas. From September through October, you’ll see males of this species in huge numbers- this is their mating season, and they migrate en masse in search of mates.
3. Mexican Orange-kneed Tarantula
Scientific name: Brachypelma smithii
A striking, instantly recognizable species with orange “knees,” a large body and long, dark hairs, this species is native to Mexico and the Southwestern US, but it’s quite rare. It was at one time one of the most popular tarantula species in the pet trade, and before a captive breeding program was established the wild population was nearly wiped out.
They’re an endangered species now, and trading in wild-caught Orange-kneed Tarantulas is illegal as a result. They spend the daylight hours hiding in burrows, and come out at night to hunt. While they may bite if provoked, the bite is no worse than a bee sting.
4. Texas Brown Tarantula
Scientific name: Aphonopelma hentzi
One of the most ubiquitous species of tarantula, the Texas Brown is found over most of the Southern US. Growing to a legspan of 4in and weighing as much as 3oz, it’s one of the larger tarantula species in North America.
It’s a dull brown color that blends in just as well with desert sand as with leaf litter on the forest floor, and this species does like a wide range of habitats. Like all tarantulas, they create burrows for themselves to hide during the day, and come out at night to hunt. It’s common enough that there’s a good chance one has a burrow in your yard. Since they’re nocturnal, you may never know.
5. Aphonopelma marxi
This species is small for a tarantula- usually only an inch or less long. They like to live at high elevations, and are most common in the “Four Corners” region where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet.
Their preferred habitats are conifer forests and sagebrush steppe, but they’re difficult to find in the wild. Their remote habitat, plus their habitat of spending the day hidden in burrows, makes them difficult to observe, and not much else is known about them.