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With bodies exceeding 2 inches long, tarantulas are the largest spider you'll find in Kansas. Their large, hairy bodies make arachnophobics squirm and sometimes scream, but these spiders are instrumental in keeping other pest populations down. They'll devour black widows and other poisonous spiders as well as scorpions and small rodents. The spiders proliferate in the southern and western portions of the state, keeping to their burrows by day and emerging to hunt at night.
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Texas brown tarantulas (Aphonopelma hentzi) are the primary species you'll see in Kansas. Their coloration ranges from light brown to black, and their bodies are covered with dense hairs that the spiders fling at the eyes of predators when threatened. Look for tarantulas walking across dirt roads on summer nights, as males of the species travel great distances to locate the burrows of mating females.
Only females make good pets, as males won't stop trying to escape their pens in their quest for a suitable mate. Use care when handling tarantulas as they can deliver a painful but nonvenomous bite. Eye protection when handling tarantulas is advisable for children as they tend to put their faces close to the spider. Wash hands thoroughly after handling a spider to avoid getting hairs in your eyes that can cause irritation or infection.
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