There are more than 700 different spider species in North Carolina. Some large, hairy spiders, like the massive Carolina wolf spider, are frequently misidentified as tarantulas. While the state is home to several tarantula-like spiders, are no true tarantulas in the Tar Heel State.
Tarantulas are drawn to warm, dry climates and avoid cold and wet areas. Since North Carolina has humid summers and moderately cold winters, it isn’t an ideal environment for these arachnids. True tarantulas are primarily found in southeastern states, where they typically live in desert regions. Some tarantulas can be found in the central United States, but the eastern-most state they reside in is Arkansas.
What makes a spider a true tarantula? Tarantulas are a part of the family Theraphosidae, which includes more than 1,000 spiders. These spiders are known for being big and hairy, but they have unique characteristics that other spiders lack, such as downward-facing fangs and long, bristle-like hairs that they use as a defense mechanism.
There are no spiders in the Theraphosidae family in North Carolina, but the state is home to spiders that are closely related to tarantulas. Tarantulas are a part of a group of spiders called mygalomorphs. This group includes several types of spiders that are common in North Carolina, such as purseweb, folding door, and funnel-web spiders.
Spiders that are a part of this group are sometimes called tarantulas, atypical tarantulas, or false tarantulas. In North Carolina, the spiders that are most likely to be mistaken for tarantulas are trapdoor spiders, which are a part of the mygalomorph genus ummidia. Trapdoor spiders are close relatives of tarantulas and have a similar appearance, but they tend to be smaller and less hairy, with shinier legs.
Due to their size, people are often frightened by tarantulas. Tarantulas are large with sharp fangs, but they’re not known to be aggressive and generally harmless to humans. In contrast, some of the false tarantulas that you can find in North Carolina are fairly aggressive. Thankfully, even though some tarantula-like spiders bite humans, none of these spiders produce venom that’s toxic to humans.
If you venture into the high elevations of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, you can find an endangered arachnid known as the spruce-fir moss spider. This spider is around the size of a BB pellet and is sometimes described as the world’s smallest tarantula. The spruce-fir moss spider is a mygalomorph and is closely related to the tarantula, but it’s actually a part of a genus of spiders known as microhexura.
Even though you can’t find true tarantulas in the North Carolina wilds, you can spot arachnids that are similar to tarantulas in a number of ways. Read on to find out more about spiders like tarantulas in North Carolina and learn how to tell these spiders apart from the real deal.
5 Spiders Like Tarantulas in North Carolina
1. Trapdoor Spiders
Scientific Name: Ctenizidae
Trapdoor spiders are a medium-sized, aggressive species of spider that’s related to the tarantula. Like tarantulas, trapdoor spiders usually live in underground burrows. Both types of spider are hairy, but trapdoor spiders are sparsely covered in thin hairs, while tarantulas have thick, bristle-like hair.
One of the largest and most common types of trapdoor spiders found in North Carolina is the Southern Trapdoor Spider. These spiders are usually brown or black and have long, shiny legs. Females can reach a body length of up to 2 inches, with a leg span up to 3 inches long.
2. Spruce-Fir Moss Spiders
Scientific Name: Microhexura montivaga
This elusive spider isn’t easy to spot. Not only is it tiny, measuring in at 1/8 of an inch, but it only lives beneath moss that grows on the highest peaks of the Appalachian Mountains. In recent years, its habitat has been shrinking, which has left the spider seriously endangered.
People frequently refer to the spruce-fir moss spider as the tiniest tarantula species, but it’s actually the smallest tarantula-like spider. While tarantulas thrive in damp habitats, this spider needs moisture in order to survive. It was once found in other states, like Virginia and Tennessee, but today, the only surviving populations are in western North Carolina.
3. Purseweb Spiders
Scientific Name: Atypidae
Purseweb spiders are also known as atypical tarantulas. Several species of this spider are common in North Carolina, including the Atlantic purseweb spider and Coyle’s purseweb spider. They are dark, medium-sized spiders dig burrows and build tubelike webs along the base of trees.
Like true tarantulas, purseweb spiders have massive fangs, which they use to pierce through their web and disable their prey. They do have some hair along their abdomens, but they don’t have thick, noticeable hair like tarantulas do. You’re most likely to spot these spiders in woodland environments.
4. Wolf Spiders
Scientific Name: Lycosidae
It’s very common for people to confuse wolf spiders and tarantulas, but these spiders aren’t actually a part of the mygalomorph family. Instead, they’re a part of an infraorder known as araneomorphae. While tarantulas and other mygalomorphs have fangs that point straight down, araneomorphae have fangs that point towards each other!
The Carolina Wolf Spider is the biggest wolf spider in North America and the largest spider in North Carolina. Its leg span can be more than 4 inches long, making it an intimidating sight. These spiders might look like tarantulas from a distance, but they’re not as hairy, and they have much thinner legs.
5. Folding Door Spiders
Scientific Name: Antrodiaetidae
These mygalomorphs are another North Carolinian spider that’s frequently described as a false or atypical tarantula. This burrowing spider is usually found in the western United States, but it can also be found in the Appalachian mountains. They’re brown, medium-sized spiders with a tuft of hair along their abdomens.
There are two folding spider species commonly seen in North Carolina: Antrodiaetus unicolor and Antrodiaetus microunicolor, which is a newly-discovered species. Similar to tarantulas, male spiders leave their burrows during the fall so that they can search for a mate. However, they thrive in cool and humid habitats.