Thousands of male tarantulas are roaming the streets of San Francisco, looking for love in all the right places – or the wrong places, if you are a human being who suffers from arachnophobia!
These giant hairy spiders typically mate from the end of August, with their mating season ending in early fall. In a typical year, this timeline doesn’t give a lot of time for people to spot the massive creatures.
This year, however, the extended warm and dry weather in northern California means the arachnids’ mating period has also grown longer. Residents of the San Francisco Bay Area have been reporting sightings of these massive males late into the fall.
It’s Just the Cycle of Life for A Tarantula
While females can live close to 30 years, males usually only make it to about six or so. Males’ shorter lifespan has two main reasons. First, males fight with other males for the attention of the female before even attempting to woo her. Secondly, of course, a female tarantula may potentially eat a male if she’s feeling peckish after they’ve done the deed.
Once the spider proves himself as the best of the best, top of the crop, the male tarantula will approach the female’s silk-covered burrow and, quite literally, tap on her front door. His ultimate goal is to get her to come outside of her den and allow him as a suitor.
If she does, she will accept his sperm, which he has already dropped onto her web. She will then return to the burrow, leaving him to die soon after, unless she eats him first. She’s going to need the extra nutrition – now she’s eating for up to 1,000 eggs per sac.
Seeing This Spider is Perfectly Normal
The Aphonopelma smithi, or Bay Area blond, is the only tarantula native to this region of California.
“Great time of year. You only get to see it once a year,” says Al Wolf, director of the Sonoma County Reptile Rescue.
Hikers often report seeing a tarantula or two (or more) at this time of year across Northern California’s national parks and forests. This year, hikers around Mount Diablo State Park have reported that the area has been particularly active, and the spider’s large population is on the move.
During mating season, some tarantulas in North America can travel distances up to a mile – an impressive feat if you consider their relative size.
Think about how long it takes you to walk a mile!
Tarantulas aren’t that Dangerous
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the sizeable spider isn’t very poisonous or aggressive. They are one of the very few species of wild animal that environmentalists encourage people to appreciate from a close distance, and even favor interactions.
Be careful of their hairy bodies, however. Cameron Morrison, an employee of Mount Diablo State Park, says their most common method of defense is the barb-like hairs on their backs.
But you don’t have to worry so much about a bite. “Tarantulas are very reluctant to bite you. I’ve never had someone say a tarantula bit them,” states Morrison.
Careful, though. While tarantulas are “gentle giants,” as Morrison describes, they do have intimidatingly large, sharp fangs. Like most wild animals, they can and will bite you if they feel threatened.
While they do have venom, it is relatively mild for humans, less intense than a bee sting. Interestingly, some scientists believe tarantula venom could even be useful in creating a potent pain relief medicine!
If you feel comfortable with it, you can even pick them up and let them crawl on you! But most wildlife experts do not recommend this unless you are an experienced spider handler. The tarantula is a very delicate animal. If you drop a tarantula, even from such a short distance as two to three inches, it could sustain severe injuries. According to entomologist Jason Bond: “When handling a tarantula, she’s the most likely to get injured.”
A Somewhat Shy Spider
While it may be common to see the colossal spider during this season, most of the time, they prefer to come out at night. Males generally prefer not to go further than a few inches outside of their burrow except during mating season.
During the season, however, it is possible to see them roaming around all hours of the day and night. With the spiders being so active this year, you may be able to spot one just by looking out of your front door if you live in the Bay Area.
They don’t travel in packs, though. It’s unlikely for a rampaging herd of the scary beasties to swarm your home, no matter what your phobic fears are telling you.
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