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Tarantulas Are Busy Around Halloween, But They’re Not Trick or Treating
Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 by eNature
Female Tarantula
Female Tarantula
© M Hedin
Tarantual Hawk with prey
Tarantual Hawk with prey
© Julio.ospinao

With Halloween around the corner, lots of folks are thinking about spiders such as tarantulas—as well as bats, ghouls and other scary creatures. But it turns out that tarantulas have a lot more on their mind this month than trick or treating.

It’s mating time for tarantulas.

And the story behind tarantula breeding season is an epic tale of long journeys, deadly peril, violence and love.  Perhaps one even worthy of Homer.

Mating Season Is Here
Fall is the time of year when male tarantulas, having finally reached adulthood, come out of the burrows in which they have lived for the first 5 to 12 years of their lives. Their mission? To seek out females and mate with them. A host of perils awaits the newly emerged male in the outside world, not the least of which is the female herself.

Female Power
Female tarantulas are doing what they usually do on warm evenings: sitting in their burrows near the surface, waiting to feel the vibrations of passersby. If the vibrations feel as if they might come from a small animal such as a cricket or another spider, she will rush out, grab the unsuspecting prey item and sink her fangs into it. When a male tarantula approaches the burrow of a female, he first tastes the silk that lies around the entrance. If he detects a mature female in residence, he responds by drumming on the surface with his legs and his pedipalps (the leg-like first set of appendages, which are very long on tarantulas). The reason for this drumming is to let the female know that he is interested in mating—and would rather not be mistaken for a meal by the larger and always hungry female. When and if a female emerges, he continues to drum as he approaches her. If she’s receptive, she will raise up the front end of her body and allow him to grab her fangs with the hook-like projections on his forelegs. He then transfers his sperm to her with his pedipalps.

That was the easy part—the difficult task still lies ahead: he must release her fangs, disengage himself, and make a hasty retreat before she can overpower him and eat him. Even if he successfully escapes from his big date, the male tarantula is still not long for this world. Adult males (mated or not) usually die before winter arrives.

Hairy Meal
As if being eaten by your mate isn’t enough to worry about, the male tarantula must also be on the alert for predators like owls, skunks, and foxes. If he detects the approach of a hungry hunter, his most effective defense is to quickly use his hind legs to kick some of the hairs off of his abdomen. The hairs dislodge easily and are light enough to float into contact with the nose and eyes of the approaching predator. On contact the hairs produce a burning sensation. This line of defense works well against mammals and birds, but there is another tarantula hunter out there that is an even greater threat, and it is considerably smaller than the spider: it is a wasp called the Tarantula Hawk.

Wasp Feed
Tarantula Hawks are among the largest wasps in the world; one North American species exceeds two inches in length. They are handsome insects with metallic blue bodies and orange wings, sometimes seen sipping nectar at flowers (particularly milkweeds) in the early evening hours. Female Tarantula Hawks patrol low over open country, searching for wandering male tarantulas or for the burrows of females. When the wasp finds a tarantula, she lands and approaches the spider directly. The spider assumes a defensive posture, raising the front legs and baring the lethal-looking fangs. Unfortunately for the spider, this posture also exposes its underside to the agile wasp, which quickly darts under the spider and stings it in a soft spot where the legs join the body. The sting of the Tarantula Hawk contains a peculiar potion; it paralyzes the spider almost instantly, but does not kill it. The “sleeping” spider is then dragged to a burrow, pulled underground, and buried with a single wasp egg attached to the outside of the body. When the egg hatches, the maggot-like wasp larva has a huge fresh meal waiting for it. The spider is still alive, its tissues undecayed and ready for the wasp larva to devour. The voracious larva will even eat the muscles and other “nonessential” tissue before consuming the still-functioning organs.

So if you are out for a walk or a drive on an early autumn evening and you happen to see a giant hairy spider making his way over the ground, don’t react with fear. Just wish him the best of luck. With all the perils ahead of him, he’s going to need it.

Ever encounter a tarantula in the wild?  Or anywhere else? 

We always enjoy hearing your stories!

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Comments

I wonder if this is how Alice Cooper got the idea for his big Halloween Hit “The Black Widow ” way back in the 70’s ?? I know the Black Widow isnt a Tarrantula but dont Black Widows also eat their males also ?

Posted by tom mengle on 10/21

Almost stepped on one along a mountain trail above Death Valley, California. Luckily they’re slow and docile enough that I was able to take some pictures before moving on.

Posted by Bruce Crane on 10/21

my kids had ONE for a pet. One day I went in the room and there were TWO spiders in the aquarium. I had no idea they shed.

Posted by jen on 10/21

I’ve been fortunate to observe 2 tarantulas in the wild since moving to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona: once along a trail in the Superstition Mountains (desert) and the other along the trail climbing Thumb Butte up north in the piney woods. Actually I see far more gorgeous tarantula hawks which I film on a regular basis.  I’m always rescuing them from my dog’s pool in the summer so that lends me several opportunities!  Then once hiking, I came across one filling in a burrow with dirt.  Sure enough, the next day, the burrow was sealed!  Concerning that video, I just received a comment from one YouTuber reading “f***** brutal vid!”

Posted by Judy on 10/21

I live in the local mountains of So. Cal and see at least a couple male tarantulas on the drive home each day during this time of year.  Have been able to take a couple good photos of them as well.

Posted by Jill on 10/21

Very soon after moving to Arizona from California, I ventured up to our garage one evening after dark. I reached out to flip on the light switch just inside the door.  Fortunately my eyes adjusted to the dark just in time to see a tarantula parked right on top of the switch.  A very disconcerting welcome to Arizona!!

Posted by Lily on 10/21

I was out walking once, when I was 15 or so. It was out in these really deep woods that my step dad was a building a house for someone. Well, we found a male and kept it for a long time. It became a pretty good size. Then my mom found out and made me let it go :(

Posted by Fruit on 10/21

In October of 2008 down in Oklahoma on the way to Tallgrass Prairie Preserve we saw a tarantula crossing the road. My dad and I got out and my dad put his foot in front of the path of the tarantula and was very amused when the tarantula did not stop but kept going as if nothing had ever happened.

Posted by Ronnie Jay on 10/21

Last year in Sedona, AZ, I came inside from taking photos of the full moon.  Felt somethng near my foot, did a little kick, and then saw a huge tarantula on the wall of my living room!  I now know how to do the “tarantula dance” - a crazy jig of dancing feet, flapping arms and goosebumps.  (Sorry, not a fan of spiders the size of the outlet cover on the wall.)  Eventually nudged him out with a broom. I don’t mind an encounter in the wild - but that does not include my living room!

Posted by Kim on 10/22

We had set up an above ground pool for our visiting grandchildren. One morning as I approached the pool I saw something dark on the bottom—a tarantula had fallen into the water and was lying still in the depths. I reached into the pool and pulled her out. She stirred briefly so I set her in a place out of the sunlight and safe from predators so I could show her to the grandkids. An hour or so later we took the grandchildren to see her. Imagine my surprise when she was no longer there. Apparently tarantulas can survive for at least short periods of time under water.

Posted by Carole on 10/22

My female Chilean rosehair has been spinning for a few weeks, too bad no male will be coming by.She is an excellent pet, quite sociable and loves to nestle around my ponytail or just beneath my hair on my collarbone.

Posted by dhona on 10/22

Both the spiders and wasps are a regular inhabitants of the so cal area, many a night coming home from work would I see a trantula, on the front door welcome mat to my house…. Fun for me to look at, but my wife freaks out at the mere sight of them lol

Posted by Andre Guerrero on 10/22

I have stopped traffic protecting these creatures. and pulled my neighbor out of her house to show her the one that lived in my attic. I once watched as one lost its battle to some other monster bug and get carried away. I think they are beautiful creatures.

Posted by toni danielson on 10/22

I live in rural So. Arizona and have several tarantula holes in my yard.  Needless to say we see several tarantulas and tarantula hawks are a daily occurrence flying low over the ground. I have only witnessed two ‘battles’ between the hawks and spider with the score standing at 1 to 1.

Posted by Calvin on 10/22

In response to Jen’s post…same thing happened to be 2 tarantula’s in the habitat…I was confused, bewildered…one cinnamon and one black…a shed!!!

Posted by Mary Weisenmiller on 10/22

Oct 23, 2011 - Back in Central TX, the tarantulas were pretty plentiful this time of year with the mating migration going on. We used to see them quite often on the property as they made their way to their destinations. I love these little guys and I think they are so beautiful and sweet. They make gentle pets. If they feel threatened then they display defensive behavior otherwise they are the sweetest babies. I wish they were here in the Smokies but I have not seen them, probably could not handle the cold weather with all the snow. We have already had two freezes. I miss these guys… used to rescue them all the time from people that really need to learn more about nature.  Also, bats are good guys too.

Posted by Marcie on 10/23

Just wondering do any live in central florida??

Posted by becky on 10/23

Great post, thanks! My wife and I just purchased an older home on 2.4 acres just outside of Tucson, AZ. Fortunately we both like tarantulas because this place has tons. I have never seen so many burrow holes. The other evening I saw at least 6 emerging from their burrows and almost 6 more near the surface. Over the last couple of weeks I had seen another half dozen or so crawling around. I would say we have at least a hundred burrows. Any idea why we have so many in such a small area?

Posted by Randall on 10/23

Eating carbs IS the best way to put weight on fast, for bears and people. If you have insulin resistance cover letters

Posted by cover letters on 10/24

while rockclimbing in ogden, ut we had a tarantual crawl right up the rock by us. I wrote a post about it on our blog natureforkids.net

Posted by shawna on 10/24

After having raised spiders for some thirty years now ,I still
find them interesting .My favourite spider is Latrodectus mactans (the black widow spider who is not always eating her mate,that conclusion came from a study by Thorp and Woodson in 1939.the males were kept together with the females after mating and were not removed from the jar and got eaten .there are no tarantulas in south Florida except in private collections or Zoos.

Posted by tom sullivan on 10/25

Thank you Mary Weisenmiller, I didnt think I was the only one NUTS! They are cool ...  animals… insects… smile

Posted by jen on 10/26

I HATE TARANTULAS.
I am 5 years od and my mommy raises spidersssss.
i hate them im going tw a run away
bye see you sooon
tj maxwell

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