Traveling Tarantulas wander the countryside

Local resident Judy Schultz holds a gentle tarantula without fear. Scott Schultz photo

It’s tarantula time again. Male tarantulas are marching forth, looking for mates among the canyons, deserts, scrub lands and yes, even neighborhood backyards.

The California Ebony Tarantula, or Aphonopelma eutylenum by its scientific name, and the Desert Blond Tarantula, or Aphonopelma chalcodes, are the most common Southern California tarantula species whose males are now on the move. Each tarantula is about 2 inches in length, which is pretty big for a spider. Fortunately, none of the North American tarantula species are dangerous to people, but they are capable of inflicting a nasty bite if mishandled or if they express an irritating barbed guard hairs as a defense.

But generally tarantulas are peaceful animals, local reptile and creepy critter expert Johnathan Schmidt said.

“Tarantulas are amazingly docile creatures,” Schmidt said. “I have been handling them since I was about 4-years-old. It’s a lot like a dog. If you pester and prod it enough, you may have a bad encounter, usually in the form of a bite or very itchy rash from the discarded hairs from the abdomen, but if shown respect, you can enjoy them from up close or from afar.”

From September to October, the eight-legged Romeos take to the road, wandering in search of their Juliets for the purpose of procreation. And in plenty of time for Halloween, these rather large arachnids can scare the wits out of people that come upon them unexpectedly or in unexpected places, such as in the kitchen or bedroom of a home.

Tarantulas are common, yet not heavily researched. Scientists are slowly adding to their knowledge base of these fascinating creatures.

Female tarantulas remain in their home burrows, while the males go knocking door to door. Once he finds his true love, mating occurs, and the male makes his escape before the female’s appetite returns. He is much shorter-lived than the female and may die after mating.

Depending on the exact species, female tarantulas lay from 50 to 2,000 eggs in a silken egg sac and guard it for six to eight weeks. During this time, she can become very aggressive, protecting the sac with her life. The new hatchlings remain in the burrow for a time after emerging from the eggs, living off the remains of their yolk sac before leaving to mature and march themselves one day.

Tarantulas are solitary animals, choosing to live in burrows and hunt from the safety of their front door. They are usually nocturnal, focusing on prey like small reptiles, insects, mice scorpions and other spiders. While a male tarantula requires seven to 10 years to mature before emerging to search for a mate, he may only live a short time after that. The female may actually live up to 25 years.

If someone sees a wandering romantic tarantula and are terribly frightened by the experience, Schmidt said he would be happy to come and relocate the errant beast for them.

“I’d be glad to give any tarantula a safe escape from a scared human. Fear on your end shouldn’t mean death on their end,” Schmidt said. “As always donations are greatly appreciated. Please call me at (951) 961-3332 if you need assistance with a tarantula.”

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