Giant White-knee Tarantula, Acanthoscurri geniculata
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: I’ve been watching the tarantula on the Museum’s Tarantula Webcam for quite a while now and I was just wondering why it doesn’t seem to be eating anything – is it OK?
Answer: As well as many historical and scientific collection items on display for visitors, Museum Victoria is also home to a large number of live exhibits, who are cared for by our Live Exhibits team. One such live exhibit who has over the last few months found herself with quite a fan club, is our Giant White-knee Tarantula, Acanthoscurria geniculata.
Originally from Brazil, she doesn’t have a name, although one of her fans refers to her as Angela. She has been a resident of Museum Victoria for the past nine years. She was acquired by Museum Victoria in 2003 from AQIS, (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service), and we assume that she was smuggled into Australia, possibly via Europe or the US where they are commonly kept as pets.
Our Giant White-knee Tarantula can usually be seen feeding on the webcam on Fridays at 3pm, although don’t expect a frenzy of movement. Most spiders, including tarantulas, spend a great deal of time not moving. Unlike humans, movement for these animals is based on absolute need. If they don’t need to move as a matter of survival they simply don’t. Movement uses valuable energy and also brings risk – predators can see you more easily when you move. On the web-cam, you will see that our tarantula spends a lot of her time motionless, but she does move periodically to line her home with silk, to drink, and of course weekly to feed.
Our Giant White-knee Tarantula tends to feed intensively for a while until her abdomen is quite enlarged, and then she will lose interest in food – sometimes for several weeks at a time. At present, she is not at all interested in the banquet of tasty crickets running back and forth past her. When she is hungry again she will begin feeding again – she lets the Live Exhibits staff know.
She has also recently shed her skin – it looked like a second spider had been put in her enclosure with her, but in fact she had moulted. Moulting can also affect her feeding. Tarantulas tend to go off their food for one to four weeks prior to a moult, while their body prepares to shed the exoskeleton. This layer that detaches from the body includes the lining of mouth and fangs, so the tarantula will stop using them beforehand. After moulting, she will wait another week or so before eating in order to harden her new exoskeleton.