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Urticating hairs or urticating bristles are one of the primary defense mechanisms used by numerous plants, almost all New World tarantulas, and various lepidopteran caterpillars. Urtica is Latin for “nettle” (stinging nettles are in the genus Urtica), and bristles that urticate are characteristic of this type of plant, and many other plants in several families. This term also refers to certain types of barbed bristles that cover the dorsal and posterior surface of a tarantula’s or caterpillar’s abdomen. Many tarantula species eject bristles from their abdomens, directing them toward potential attackers. These bristles can embed themselves in the other animal’s skin or eyes, causing physical irritation, usually to great discomfort. The term urticating hairs is a misnomer, as technically only mammals possess true hairs.
The most common form of urticating hairs in plants are typified by nettles, which possess sharp-pointed hollow bristles seated on a gland that secretes an acrid fluid. The points of these bristles usually break off in the wound, and the acrid fluid is pressed into it. Various plants unrelated to true nettles (Urtica species) possess similar defensive bristles, and the common names often reflect this
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