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Arizona Trails - Tarantula
Tarantula (3:32) KXCI's Arizona Trails
Arizona Trails - Tarantula
The Desert Tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) is most common here in the Tucson area Autumn in the Sonoran Desert means mating season for a wide variety of animals. One creature you may spot during this season is the tarantula. The Desert Tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes) is most common here in the Tucson area but the North American tarantula, Eurypelma californicum, may also be encountered. They are so similar that you'd need to be an entomologist to tell them apart.

Tarantulas are solitary ground living spiders which do not spin webs but instead stalk and capture any prey the right size; small insects like grasshoppers, beetles, sow bugs, other small spiders and sometimes even small lizards. Primarily nocturnal you can see them on the move in the early morning and late afternoon.

The desert tarantula commonly reaches 3 inches in length. They inhabit cracks in the rock and small burrows abandoned by other animals. The female lines her nest with silk to keep it clean. Tarantula exoskeletons are covered with fine hairs but, if you look closely, most tarantulas have a bare spot on the top of the abdomen. When confronted by a vertebrate predator, the spider will stroke its hind legs across the body and brush the hairs into the animal's eyes. The hairs are quite irritating so it's a pretty good defensive trick. The hairs are replaced with the successive molt. Tarantulas can make a variety of hissing vocalizations by rubbing their jaws, front legs, or palps together.

Tarantulas take 3-9 years to reach sexual maturity. Females can live up to 40 years but the males are not so lucky. The female often eats the male sometimes before he even has time to mate! As many as 800-1000 eggs can be laid in the nest at one time.

Remember the traditional Italian dance the tarantella? The idea was to dance the poison of a tarantula bite out of the victim's system. If by some chance you were to be bit, clean the wound with soap and water and the numbness, swelling or itching should dissipate in a day or so. Of course it is possible for a more severe reaction to any arachnid sting, so seek medical attention if more serious symptoms arise. Fact is tarantulas are gennerally harmless to humans and can be kept as pets. Just a couple of crickets a week and no vet bills. If you are a bit of an arachnophobe, please don't harm these important desert predators. They can easily be captured and moved to a less intrusive location.

Next time Tarantula Hawks.