Tarantula is the common name for a group of hairy and often very large spiders belonging to the family Theraphosidae, of which approximately 900 species have been identified. Tarantulas hunt prey in both trees and on the ground. All tarantulas can emit silk, whether they be arboreal or terrestrial species. Arboreal species will typically reside in a silken "tube web", and terrestrial species will line their burrows or lairs with web to catch wandering prey. They mainly eat insects and other arthropods, using ambush as their primary method. The biggest tarantulas can kill animals as large as lizards, mice, or birds. Most tarantulas are harmless to humans, and some species are popular in the exotic pet trade while others are eaten as food. These spiders are found in tropical and desert regions around the world.
The name tarantula comes from the town of Taranto in Southern Italy and was originally used for an unrelated species of either European wolf spider (See Lycosa tarantula for more information about this spider the appearance of which resembles that of that tarantula family) or the Mediterranean black widow (the effects of whose bite more closely resemble that described in Taranto). In Africa, Theraphosids are frequently referred to as "baboon spiders". Asian forms are known as "earth tigers" or "bird spiders". Australians refer to their species as "barking spiders", "whistling spiders," or "bird spiders". People in other parts of the world also apply the general name "mygales" to Theraphosid spiders.
There are other species also referred to as tarantulas outside this family; the evolution of the name Tarantula is discussed below. This article primarily concerns the Theraphosids.