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Tarantula spiders from Belize

By Jan Meerman

(Click an image for a larger picture)

Relatively few Tarantula (Barychelidae and Theraphosidae) species occur in Belize. Reichling (2003) reported 9 species. In his book Tarantula's of Belize, Reichling presents a key to Belize's Tarantula species. But in order to be able to work with this key, a basic knowledge of spider morphology is required. Below is schematic drawing of a spider with the most important body parts explained.

Spider Illustration: Dippenaar-Shoeman, A. S. and Jocque, R.1997. African Spiders. An Identification Manual. Plant Protection Research Institute, Handbook No.9. 392 pp.

Tarantula's are characterized by their stocky appearance and the hairy body and legs. A more technical characteristic are the fangs that are parallel (pointing backward) rather than opposite as in other spiders. There are many other characteristics but these are less obvious.

For species recognition it is important to know whether the specimen before you is a male or a female. Females usually have a larger abdomen but that is not always a fail-safe character.

Tibial spur Crassicrus lamanai male (Green Hills)
Most male Tarantula species in Belize can be recognized by the paired tibial spur on the tibia of leg I (front leg)(see picture to the left). These spurs serve to immobilize the fangs of the female during courtship. One very rare species Metriopelma gutzkei, appears to be lacking these spurs.
Another characteristic of adult males is also related to reproduction. At the tip of the palps (they really look like a small pair of legs.) is a structure called the embolus. It looks a bit like the stinger of a scorpion (picture to the right) but smaller and not intended to sting. Instead it is the instrument with which the male deposits his sperm in the female. The emboli in each Tarantula species are different and are an important tool in species recognition.
Embolus Crassicrus lamanai (Green Hills)
Tibia Crassicrus and Citheracanthus

Species recognition itself is more difficult. The three common species in Belize are similar in size and their color is variable enough to be confusing.

A good field character is the tibia of the 4th pair of legs. (hindmost legs). In the case of Crassicrus lamanai, this tibia is distinctly swollen. The picture to the left shows hind tibia

of a female Citharacanthus meermani (top) and of a female Crassicrus lamanai (bottom). Unfortunately, in the male this distinction is somewhat less obvious.

 

Brachypelma vagans (Ausserer, 1875)

This is the most common of the Belizean Tarantulas. The common name is "red-rump" which refers to the abdomen being covered in reddish fur which is most noticeable in freshly molted specimens. They are most common in disturbed areas and this terrestrial species is easily found by locating its burrow. A

Bachypelma vagans male (Green Hills)

yucatec Maya name for this species is "Chiwo' ". There are many misunderstandings about this species. One of these is that it is likely to bite horses in the foot, which then causes the hoof to fall of! In reality the species is quite harmless. The biggest danger comes from the abdominal hairs which are quite urticaceous and can cause itching and swelling. Particularly nasty when inhaled!

See Species Profile in the Biodiversity and Environmental Resource Data System

 

Citheracanthus meermani male (Chaa Creek)

Citharacanthus meermani Reichling & West, 2000

This species is smaller than the previous, it is also terrestrial but prefers forest over open areas. It has only recently been discovered and named (Reichling & West, 2000). The species is named after its discoverer: Jan Meerman. As far as we know this species is only found in the Cayo and Stann Creek Districts of Belize. But recently, David Ortiz and Eddy Hijmensen claim to have found this species near the Naj Tunich cave, Poptun, Peten, Guatemala.

This species is recognized by the smaller size and brownish instead of orange abdominal fur. Males (top left) are more slender with spindly legs and are usually darker in overall color. Females (right) are stockier and more "fuzzy".

At Green Hills Butterfly Ranch Citharacanthus meermani is relatively common, but not quite as common as Brachypelma

Citheracanthus meermani: female (Green Hills)

vagans. At higher elevations such as in the Mountain Pine Ridge Citharacanthus meermani is the dominant if not only, species. But at even higher elevation in Southern Belize the species is replaced by the similar C. livingstoni.

Read more this species in a Las Quevas study.

See Species Profile in the Biodiversity and Environmental Resource Data System

 

Citharacanthus livingstoni. Schmidt and Weinman, 1996.

The poor picture to the right I took in 1995 in the southern Cayo District near the Maya Mountain Divide at an altitude of 760 m. At this stage the species hadn't even been described yet.

See Species Profile in the Biodiversity and Environmental Resource Data System

 

 

Citheracanthus livingstoni: Maya Mountains

Psalmopoeus maya

Psalmopoeus maya. Witt, 1996

This is an arboreal Tarantula. Arboreal Tarantulas are quite rare in Belize and only two species have been recorded so far (The second species is P.reduncus, the "Costa Rican Orange Mouth").

This species is described from specimens collected in the Cayo District in Belize. It is certainly very rare or at least very rarely encountered. It took 10 years to find my first specimen and I live next to the type location!

David Ortiz and Eddy Hijmensen recently report to have found this species under rocks near the entrance of the Naj Tunich cave, Poptun, Peten, Guatemala.

Most noticeable feature of this species is the very "hairy" appearance and overall black color. At closer range the species also has reddish hairs on the legs and abdomen.

See Species Profile in the Biodiversity and Environmental Resource Data System

 

Crassicrus Lamanai Reichling & West, 1996.

This is a fairly common species on the lowlands of Belize. Although it was described as a new species only recently, the species was already fairly well know in the pet trade. Illegally (?) exported specimens had apparently been entering the pet trade for quite some time and the trade name for the was the "cinnamon". This common name mostly referred to the female

 

Crassicrus lamanai: male (Green Hills)

Crassicrus lamanai female

 

(left, below). The male is virtually black and very different in appearance from the female (right, top). The species is best recognized by the swollen appearance of the hind tibia (see pictures above).

See Species Profile in the Biodiversity and Environmental Resource Data System

 

Reichlingia sp. nov.

Very unusual are the pygmy tarantulas. These small tarantulas are not "real" tarantulas but belong to the family Barychelidae. In many aspects they look like miniature (they are of a thumbnail size) tarantulas. They live in similar silk line burrows, only much smaller.

Reichlingia sp. female in burrow: Green Hills
Reichlingia sp. nov. female: Green Hills, Cayo district, Belize The burrow openings are only 1.2 cm (1/2")in diameter, and the spiders rarely venture out of it. There are 2 species known in Belize. The one pictured here is as yet undescribed They are fairly common at the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch but appear to have a very small range since they haven't yet been found in apparently suitable habitats nearby.

Although apparently common, the spiders are very shy and difficult to locate and so far only females have been found.

See Species Profile in the Biodiversity and Environmental Resource Data System

Belize Tarantula research as featured by National Geographic

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Last modified: October 12, 2008