Calling All Arachnaphobes - It's Monday's Creature Feature!
Just when you thought it was safe to farm…
This crawls your way. Bellatrix is a big girl, don’t you think? As tarantulas are typically nocturnal and are seen at daylight only during the summer monsoon season, she is not used to human attention (or oblivious ruminant and bloodhound footfalls). Although the smaller black male tarantulas only live between 6 and 18 months, the girls can live up to 40 years, shedding their exoskeletons several times a year in order to grow.
Fast sprinters, tarantulas catch their prey by pursuit instead of lying in wait. Upon catching its victim, the spider will sink its fangs into it, secreting venom in the process, and grasp it with arm-like appendages between the mouth and legs called palps. The tarantula then tears it into pieces and rolls it into a large bug food ball. It spews digestive fluids onto the ball, contracts its abdomen to generate suction, and slurps in the resulting stew, leaving the hard pieces behind. Tarantulas hunt for insects like crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, cockroaches, and other small creatures, including mice, lizards, small birds, and other spiders. Thankfully, we don't fall into their prey category. Their bites are no more harmful to us than bee stings though, like bee stings, some people will have allergic reactions to them and to their hairy bodies which irritate the skin. (Here’s a clue; don’t pick them up.)
The desert tarantula likes dry, well-drained soil and will dig a deep burrow and line it with silk webbing to prevent sand and dirt from invading its nest. Each female has its own burrow; they are not social creatures.
With the happy advent of fall’s arrival to the desert, the tarantulas’ mating season begins. A male locates a receptive female by the scent she leaves on the silk of her burrow, and after performing a courtship dance, mates. To reward its affection, the female often kills and eats the male after mating, and if it doesn’t, the male will die a natural death within months anyway. After a 6-9 week gestation period, 500 to 1000 spider babies enter our world, most of whom will not make it to adulthood. Can I hear a collective "Hallelujah"?
To protect themselves when confronted, tarantulas rub their hind legs over their bodies to brush irritating hairs into their enemies’ eyes and produce a hissing sound by rubbing their legs, jaws, or palps together. The tarantulas’ natural enemies abound, including lizards, snakes, spider-eating birds and the Tarantula Hawk wasp. This large red wasp is the Tarantula’s fiercest and most dreaded enemy and we see them in large numbers during the mid to late summer and early autumn months. Once the wasp find and paralyzes a spider with its stinger, it drags its victim to a prepared burrow, deposits its eggs in the spider's abdomen and seals its victim in, shades of “The Cask of Amontillado.”. After hatching, the wasp larvae live off the tarantula's body.
Our wasp-eluding friend here seemed unnerved to be surrounded by sheep, goats, camelids, humans, and bloodhounds. Surely, viewed with her eight eyes, we looked daunting at the least. We watched her attempts to crawl to safety in one direction then another until David had pity on her, caught her in a bag, and deposited her on the other side of the fence. Granted, this was before my research showed her bite to be harmless. I’m not sure whether this means he is brave or foolish; I’ll keep my mouth shut on this one.
Be well, Bellatrix. Thanks for adding interest to our lives.