Hairy Eight-Legged Romance

looks like all legs

looks like all legs

Everette discovered this creature walking on the gravel,  scooped him up with a wedge of wood and placed him up where we could get a better look at him.DSCN6012

As freaked as I am with little spiders I was totally amazed at this fellow.  Well, maybe it was because he was outside rather than being in my abode, because years ago when Everette and I (& baby Anders) went to the rainforest in Belize on business we had some gigantic spiders in our cabin….when we returned from dinner one evening there was a juicy one on our bed!!!  I freaked then.

Anders wanted to hold this spider, and I know people do with bare open hands.  But I also know they can bite (and jump) and I wasn’t game for dealing with unnecessary spider bites and could imagine those fangs getting a good chunk.  I know they don’t have venom, but still.  Call me pansy.

Donning work gloves with holes, the tarantula holding began:

Anders up first since it was his idea.  And he wanted to hold him over and over again.

Anders up first since it was his idea. And he wanted to hold him over and over again.

Almost all tarantulas that are observed are mature males migrating in late summer and early fall.   The very first one we ever saw in the wild was early December in Southern California.  This one is only our second.

Toveli  being brave

Toveli being brave

Females are seen less often since they hang close to their burrows.  They are considerably larger than males but with shorter legs.

The burrows can go deeper than a foot underground, vertical till ending at the bottom with a side chamber.  The tarantula lines the burrow with silk, and during the day while the tarantula is inside there is usually silk covering the entrance to deter enemy penetration.

Hunting is at night.  The spider sits quietly near the burrow entrance, and any unsuspecting juicy beetle that comes within 2-3 inches gets grabbed by the pedipalps (they look like short legs beside the mouth) and impaled with fangs.  It can take days to digest these morsels.

As it gets later in the season here, there will be solid plugs put at the entrance to the tunnel and the tarantula will remain sealed up during the cold months, to wait until spring when the plug will be removed.  The tarantula will usually spend its entire life near the burrow, excluding the migrating mature males.

Laars patiently waited his turn.  He was so anxious to hold this spider.  Notice, he's in bare feet.

Laars patiently waited his turn. He was so anxious to hold this spider. Notice, he’s in bare feet.

This is definitely a male, most likely a Aphonopelma vogelae, the most commonly seen tarantula in southwestern Colorado.   Mature males will all die off in the cold by November if they aren’t driven over before then while out looking for love on the other side of the road. Before they die they migrate looking for love (rather than warmth) from some hairy female!

Males take 7-10 years to mature, then migrate and die that same year. Females take a few more years to mature and then live for many more years, producing many eggs annually.

Even I braved it.  Oh, I hate spiders....but this was pretty cool I admit.

Even I braved it. Oh, I hate spiders….but this was pretty cool I admit.

Females lay eggs in June by laying down a silk bed first, then placing the eggs on it and covering it with more silk.  The edges are pulled together and rolled up into a spherical egg sack which is carried down to the burrow where it remains much of the time with an occasional trip to the outside world for warming.

About 2 months later the eggs hatch.  Unlike the spiders in Charlotte’s Web floating off on the wind with their little balloons, tarantula babies stay near mama.  They live close by at the base of a clump of grass, then start expanding their domain and digging a bigger burrow over the next several years.  Their entire life will be lived close to where they were born.

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