Between September and November it is challenging to spend even a few days in the Sierra Foothills without running into a large, black, hairy tarantula meandering across the road. Oddly, locals are not surprised in the least, although sightings can be quite surprising indeed for visitors.
For Jess Segale, an employee of the East Bay Park and Recreation District, an encounter with a tarantula on a residential driveway is a chance to pick him up and get up close and personal. Yes, him. According to Ms. Segale, “If you see a tarantula wandering about, it is very likely a male because the females stay in their burrows and wait for the males to find them. September through November is when male tarantulas look for love, and these love-struck males are extremely docile and only have one thing on their mind.”
Although these spiders appear frightful and have venomous fangs, their venom does not affect people and is similar to that of a bee sting. Additionally, they do not attack humans and aren’t particularly interested in us at all. In fact, their mouthparts aren’t even especially effective on human skin. They are, however, lumbering death to a large amount and variety of insect pests, birds, and even mice. Another plus is that their casual, slow gait isn’t particularly intimidating to humans.
Many local residents admire the tarantulas, which is a good thing if the humans and spiders are to coexist for three months. The journey of many a tarantula has been known to end inside homes, very commonly under beds and in clothes closets. Talk about looking for love in all the wrong places!
Although they have eight eyes, they don’t see well and rely on their other senses, which can be quite challenging when they’re faced with human housing and roads. Sadly, many are crushed on the road. Locals in Mariposa erect caution signs for their beloved tarantulas during mating season, and the town of Coarsegold even holds an awareness festival in the tarantula’s honor.
The tarantula’s blatant disregard for his own safety for the sake of love involves wandering around during daylight hours in search of a burrowing female. When he locates her, he will tap his legs on the ground to invite her out for a bit of spider intimacy, but for the male tarantula, intimacy means handing over his sperm and making a run for it. If he doesn’t get away quickly enough, the female will eat her suitor in preparation of her pregnancy.
Female tarantulas are amazingly long-lived for a spider, up to 30 years in the wild. Males, on the other hand, don’t live much beyond sexual maturity, most reaching just 5 – 10 years of age if they make it through a few matings. Most males don’t even get a chance to molt.
Ms. Segale concluded her tarantula encounter by letting her new “friend” step off her hand and onto the side of the road to continue his journey. She added, “Tarantulas truly are incredible creatures worth learning about beyond first glance; besides, they fit in so well with the Halloween theme this time of year that it is ironic perfection to find them roaming the roads.”