Tarantulas turning up across state

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

Every year about this time male desert tarantulas emerge from burrows and crevices in search of a perfect mate.

About the size of a human hand — counting their eight long, hairy legs, they traverse roads and fields in a mad dash to reproduce.

“They’re basically pretty harmless. They’ll mate, do their business, go on and disappear,” according to Edalane Sparks with Mac’s Four Seasons Pest Control.

Well, harmless to humans that is. Females often kill and eat their counterparts after mating.

Tarantulas have fangs and venom. Their bite is said to be similar to a bee sting.

“(Tarantulas) freak people out because they’re big and black and hairy, but don’t be afraid of them,” Sparks said. “Just don’t bother them and they’ll go away.”

Sparks said she has seen them from Conchas Lake and Tucumcari to areas throughout Curry County.

Sightings tend to occur more in rural areas, especially along roadsides, she said. From year to year, their numbers and locations fluctuate, probably in response to weather patterns, she said.

“Mother Nature does strange things,” Sparks said. “They just go where they’re going to go. I have seen them walk over houses to go where they’re going.”

Having moved to the area last year from Idaho, J.J. Driever said she wasn’t prepared when she saw one crossing the road in front of her or walking down her driveway.

The spiders started appearing about two weeks ago, said Driever, who commutes daily from her home south of Grady to Clovis for her job at the Curry County Extension Office.

“They’re in no hurry; they just walk real slow. Every night they’re just crossing the road and heading somewhere,” said Driever, who slows down or swerves around them when she can.

“I don’t want to run over them and kill them. I don’t want to hurt them. They’re so big they’re like animals, not like a spider,” she said.

Driever said she has handled the spiders and found them to be gentle. Her 11-year-old grandson caught one on their property outside of Grady and named it Herman.

Longtime Grady resident Fairene Harper said she has seen the spiders every year she has lived in the village. Some years, more appear than others.

“They’re not a detriment to anything. They’re not going to hurt you but they might scare you half to death,” the 80-year-old said laughing.

“I just let them have their way and go on.”

Since tarantulas eat other bugs and small pests, Sparks said they can be good to have around.

“I only kill the bugs that do harm. There’s a lot of beneficial insects (and spiders) and in my opinion a tarantula is beneficial.”

Reclusive and nocturnal, tarantulas usually hide in their burrows, under rocks, or in abandoned holes during the daylight hours. Appearing in late summer and fall, Sparks said after mating the spiders will hunker down for winter and disappear again.

Desert Tarantulas: Large spiders that live in the Southwestern deserts from California to New Mexico.
They are reclusive, nocturnal spiders. They usually hide in their burrows, under rocks, or in abandoned holes during the daylight hours. They hide because they are vulnerable to predators such as birds and snakes during the day. Their prey are also mainly nocturnal.
During fall months, males began wandering around looking for females to mate with.
Their body is gray to dark brown and the abdomen is dark brown to black. Iridescent hair forms a pad below the tip of each of its eight legs

Diet: Insects, other spiders, small lizards, and probably anything else they can catch. They kill prey by injecting venom with a bite from their quarter-inch-long fangs. Enzymes in the venom dissolve the soft tissues inside the victim, allowing the tarantula to suck it dry and leave an empty shell behind.

Tarantula enemies:
Birds, snakes or coyotes and female tarantulas.

Harmless or not?
Tarantulas have fangs and venom. However, they are generally harmless to humans and their bite is said to be similar to a bee sting. Many tarantulas are docile and will crawl onto your hand and up your arm. Sometimes they are high-strung and bare their fangs at the first contact with a human hand. Don’t try to grab and pick them up, as they are quicker than they look and will vigorously defend themselves.

Males: Live between three and 10 years. Around age 3 they are mature and set out walking across the desert in search of a female during fall migration. Males usually die on or during their quest.
Males have black legs, a brownish body, and a reddish abdomen. Both sexes are covered with hairs.

Females: Do not migrate and wait in their burrows for a suitable male to arrive. They are uniformly tan in color.
After making an egg sac with up to 1,000 eggs, a female carries the sac to the edge of her burrow to warm it in the sun. Females guard their egg sac until the eggs hatch, then the young leave the nest and venture out on their own.

Sources: www.birdandhike.com and www.animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu

By the numbers:

2.5 — Inches a desert tarantula can reach in body size, with legs reaching almost 4 inches long.

3-6 — days after hatching tarantula young leave the nest

7 — Weeks it takes for tarantula eggs to hatch

20 — Years a female tarantula can live in the wild, up to 25 in captivity.