Halloween, tarantulas go hand in hand

As October is in full swing, many ghouls, witches and goblins start preparing for Halloween.

Some might be pulling out old family recipes for an annual witches brew, sure to include some of the standard ingredients like toads, bats and spiders. I have heard that spiders really make the brew, so in this month’s column, I am going to devote to the largest and hairiest spider in Colorado: the tarantula.

You have to admit it – those brave enough to go all out and use a tarantula will have the most spidery taste to their grog. Right now, there is an abundance of tarantulas at the Nature Center, and many of the school kids who have been out there this month have seen them scuttling across trails. Most of what they are seeing are male tarantulas, out for one last Halloween parade. However, male tarantulas have a pretty spooky life of their own.

In fact, tarantulas are on parade in Colorado from August to October because it is mating season. But, for male tarantulas, it is a special journey they are making. Male tarantulas wait 10 years to come outside to mate, then die a few weeks later. The burrows they live in are vertical and can be more than a foot deep with a side chamber. The entrance is marked with a veil of silk to deter predators. During cold months, a solid plug is made for the burrow entrance and the spider remains sealed within until it is removed in the spring. Except for the migration of the mature males, tarantulas are non-migratory and stay in the vicinity of their burrow their entire life.

Colorado has its own species of tarantulas, called aphonopelma coloradanum. However, most of the tarantulas found in western Colorado are called aphonopelma voglae and are “mini-tarantulas”.

Tarantulas are not dangerous to humans, and they rarely bite. If they do, their venom will probably not cause serious symptoms. However, this is not the case for its prey, which includes other wandering spiders, beetles and even young rodents. They wait by the edge of their burrow at night until their prey is about 2 or 3 inches away. Then they rush forward and grab the prey, impaling it with their fangs and dragging it into their burrow to consume it over a day.

As fearsome as these tarantulas may look, especially when they bare their fangs, they have natural enemies of their own. A wasp named the tarantula hawk likes to paralyze a tarantula with its sting and then lay eggs on him so her young will have fresh food when they hatch. In addition, female tarantulas are not that welcoming. They have been known to consider male tarantulas as an excellent post-nuptial meal.

So, as Halloween approaches and tarantulas are on parade, maybe the answer is to opt for a different spider in your witches’ brew and let these graceful male tarantulas revel in their short life above ground, wandering on their quest to find a mate, but seeing the world within a mile of their burrow for the first and final time.

sally@durangonaturestudies.org or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.