No photos on this blog have ever been staged, but in the interest of honesty I’d like to note that this tarantula, found walking a few yards away, was placed atop this branch in order to allow a better snapshot. The photo was taken on 10-18-2016.
Around this time in late summer or early fall every year male tarantulas set off in great numbers in the Santa Ynez Valley in search of female mates.
The first tarantula I recall seeing in the wild as a small boy was in fall during a Monte Vista School campout at Sage Hill Campground. I still remember how much of a spectacle the large hairy spider was for us gaggle of elementary school kids.
This is the best time of year to walk the forest, especially open and grassy areas, to find tarantulas crawling about in search of mates. Or drive at a leisurely pace with eyes peeled along one of the many roads winding through the Santa Ynez Valley. In driving you can cover a large area with ease and have a decent chance at seeing one crossing the road, which is common. Paradise Road, Happy Canyon Road and Figueroa Mountain Road all lead through prime tarantula hunting territory. If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to escape the urban cage and get out of the city.
I do not want to bore readers with the minutiae of tarantula biology, which I find tedious apart from the fights they are known to engage in with tarantula hawk wasps, but I think it’s interesting to note that female tarantulas can live to be around 25 years old. That seems quite long for such a creature. Males are said to live for about ten years.
Tarantula burrow as found on a hike in October 2011 and previously mentioned on this blog: Grass Mountain & Zaca Peak Via Birabent Canyon.
It might also be note worthy to mention how public sentiment has changed over the last century regarding these giant spiders. In the early twentieth century and the last half of the nineteenth century newspaper headlines routinely reported tarantula encounters like horror stories. Purported deaths from tarantula bites were written up and many blurbs routinely mention people falling gravelly ill for weeks on end.
A typical newspaper account reads as follows in this clip from the Los Angeles Herald published in 1901 about a supposed hard fight with a spider:
“Right after the centipede a large and vicious tarantula sprang from the opened package at Mr Frey, Mr Still, hearing the shouts of Mr Frey and seizing a stout club, rushed up to aid him. After a hard fight the men succeeded in killing both centipede and tarantula.”
A news clip from the California Daily Alta published in 1864 mentions a tarantula “captured at Dos Pueblos, Santa Barbara” as being a “vicious and deadly monarch of the spider family.”
In 1855, the Los Angeles Star published this gem of sensational scaremongering warning that a tarantula bite is “absolute certain death.” The writer proceeded with a comical bit of yellow journalism further warning that the spiders can “jump eight to ten feet to inflict his deadly bite.”
On a different note, it is remarkable how many stories spanning many years and from numerous newspapers from differing regions report about tarantulas being found by surprise in clumps of bananas. The stories appear so frequently that it nearly compels me to want to set out a ripe bunch of bananas in the woods to see if they attract any spiders.
Back to the previous point, by contrast contemporary media reports that come out every September and October no longer demonize the tarantula and often note that they are not deadly, but writers sensationalize the matter nonetheless.
These stories often mention an annual tarantula “migration,” which does not accurately describe what is happening, but does lend an air of fascination above and beyond being simply a matter of spiders searching for mates. Monarch butterflies migrate, but tarantulas do not. Yet journalists constantly repeat the word in copy-and-paste fashion without apparent thought. The wandering spiders are also frequently described in anthropocentric terms with the male spiders said to be out in search of “love.”
Please pardon the editorial here, but it does not ever seem to be adequate to describe nature accurately if the description is not thought to draw enough eyeballs and interest without the addition of embellishments. I suppose nature has much competition these days when it comes to entertaining the masses, and subtlety, nuance and smallness rarely wins out over sensationalism and hype.
To me, these natural matters written of as they truly exist, to the best of my understanding, are plenty sufficient to capture my attention and interest. I hope the same is true for some other people, too.
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