Nobody Knows Why the Peacock Tarantula Is Blue

By: Nicole Antonio & Sascha Bos  | 
Tarantula with a white body and blue legs walking on a rock
Gooty sapphire tarantulas sport a stunning hue rarely found in the animal kingdom. Dan Olsen / Shutterstock

The Gooty sapphire tarantula, also known as the peacock tarantula (Poecilotheria metallica), has captivated arachnid enthusiasts and researchers alike. Peacock tarantulas are renowned for their vibrant blue hair, which sets them apart from other species in the genus Poecilotheria.

In this article, we will explore the unique characteristics, habitat, behavior and conservation status of the Gooty sapphire tarantula, a critically endangered species.

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Visual Differences Between Young and Mature Peacock Tarantulas

The Gooty sapphire tarantula, also known as the peacock parachute spider, has the distinction of being the only blue species within the Poecilotheria genus. While its young individuals are less chromatically impressive, their hues turn into a mesmerizing blue as they mature.

However, the blue coloration isn't as pronounced in older mature males, who possess relatively slender bodies and longer legs. One distinctive feature of the mature male peacock tarantula comes after their "mature molt," when their pedipalps (the pair of pincer-like appendages near the head) swell with bulbous emboli at the tips.

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On the other hand, females can be identified through molt confirmations before reaching maturity. When fully grown, the Gooty sapphire tarantula has an impressive leg span of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters), which is up there with the biggest spiders in the world.

Distribution and Habitat

The natural habitat of the Gooty sapphire tarantula is the deciduous forests of Andhra Pradesh, located in central southern India.

However, the species' natural habitat is limited to relatively tight area measuring approximately 39 square miles (100 square kilometers), within a forest reserve that is far from untouched. Despite extensive surveys of adjacent forests, this species has not been observed outside this limited, known range.

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Humans first found the blue tarantulas in Gooty, India, in a railway timber yard located several miles southwest of the aforementioned forest reserve, suggesting a potential transportation via train.

Peacock Tarantula Behavior

The behavior of the Gooty sapphire tarantula aligns with that of many tree-dwelling or arboreal spiders. In the wild, it inhabits holes within tall trees and constructs asymmetric funnel webs.

It predominantly preys on flying insects, which it captures with precision and agility.

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When threatened, the peacock tarantula will first attempt to flee. However, if provoked or cornered, it may resort to biting as a defensive mechanism.

It is worth noting that the Gooty sapphire tarantula is a photosensitive species and will also flee when exposed to bright light. Its skittish nature and quick movements make it a captivating — and sometimes unsettling — species to observe.

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Peacock Tarantula Bite and Venom

While the bite of the Gooty sapphire tarantula is not known to cause human fatalities, it is considered medically significant. The venom of this species can induce intense pain, as reported by keepers who have been bitten by other Poecilotheria species.

It is important to highlight that the majority of these bites are considered "dry," meaning the tarantula didn't inject any venom. However, the lengthy fangs themselves still cause pain during the bite.

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The effects of a bite can include increased heart rate, stinging, headache, cramping, sweating or swelling, which may last several days.

In extreme cases, the effects of a bite from the Poecilotheria genus can be felt for months.

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Coloration and Evolution

The striking blue coloration of the Gooty sapphire tarantula has long puzzled researchers.

Unlike other animals that achieve coloration through pigments, tarantulas like the Gooty sapphire tarantula possess an intricate system of nanocrystals that reflect specific wavelengths of light, resulting in their vibrant blue appearance.

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The arrangement and alignment of these nanocrystals create a structural color that is highly iridescent and can change when viewed from different angles.

The blue coloration is not only present on the surface of the tarantula but also extends to the undersides of its legs, making it a truly marvelous sight. The evolution of this unique coloration is still a subject of ongoing research, and scientists have proposed several hypotheses regarding its purpose.

One possibility is that the blue coloration serves as a form of mate attraction or a signal to potential mates. Another hypothesis suggests that it may function in communication or contests for mates. Further research is needed to unravel the evolutionary significance of the creature's coloration.

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Captive Breeding and Pet Trade

There is a high demand for this species in the pet trade — because of its blueness, of course — and it has been bred in captivity for over a decade. The price of a Gooty Sapphire Tarantula can vary, with some in the U.S. going for over $500. However, spiderlings are typically more affordable, ranging from $100 to $200.

Like most tarantulas, the Gooty sapphire tarantula is a hardy species that grows relatively fast. It is commonly fed with crickets, although it may also consume moths, grasshoppers and cockroaches.

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Creating a suitable captive environment for this species involves providing a humid habitat with temperatures between 64 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 and 24 degrees Celsius) and a humidity level of 75 to 85 percent.

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Gooty sapphire tarantula as "critically endangered."

The highly disturbed reserve forest it calls home is under threat as a result of firewood harvesting and common logging. Gooty sapphire tarantulas are also potentially vulnerable to the pet trade, where prospective owners may not know how to properly handle the endangered species.

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While there's not a firm grasp on the exact population size, the known threats to its extremely limited habitat offer reason to believe the population is declining. Conservation efforts are essential to protect the Gooty sapphire tarantula, the world's only species of blue tarantula, and ensure its survival in the wild.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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