In the opening scenes of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Harrison Ford deftly swept a "deadly" tarantula from his shoulder. In real life, the tarantula was the one at risk – falling from such a height can easily kill this delicate arthropod.
Tarantulas are not for everyone, but these large, hairy spiders are gaining popularity as interesting, low-maintenance pets. Despite their Hollywood image, tarantulas are usually not dangerous, and are often quite beautiful.
Like all spiders, tarantulas are venomous, but their bite is more like a bee sting, and most will not bite unless provoked. Still, the venom can cause an unpleasant reaction in people allergic to the venom.
In any case, it's better not to handle tarantulas for their own safety. They have fragile abdomens (tail sections) and can be killed if dropped from even a small height.
Tarantulas can be found all over the world. In North America, they're usually found from Arkansas westward in the drier areas. Of the 800 species worldwide, the most common pet is the Chilean rose tarantula.
The lifespan of a female tarantula is amazing! Some can live up to 20 years or more. That means your child's tarantula may end up going to college with him. Males have a much shorter lifespan, ranging from a few months to 2 or 3 years.
To learn more about choosing a tarantula as a pet, see the story Choosing a Tarantula