In Arizona, you know it’s a male. The female desert tarantula, Aphonopelma chalcodes, stays home, hale and hearty in her silk lined burrow, waiting for the boys to come to call. After the monsoon rains have had their say, the males take all the risk, paying the price to keep the species going.
Of course, there’s always the chance it’s not really an Aphonopelma chalcodes. In this Sonoran desert, there are something like 50 species of tarantulas making a living. But, despite the red-orange rump, it’s certainly not a red rumped Mexican tarantula.
Those have thicker legs, for one thing, and usually a few more striking markings here and there.
It’s intriguing, the fact that in the bug world, males usually end up on the short, sharp end of the stick. The male desert tarantula is an extreme example of this. Female tarantulas have been known to live for as long as 30 years in the wild, just chilling, hanging out in their burrows, adding up the years, and eating the occasional male after he drops off his sperm.
Even if the males are fast enough to avoid becoming post-mating snacks, they don’t live nearly that long.
Of course, part of it is the simple fact that they’re the ones who expose themselves to all sorts of dangers, traveling across open ground in open daylight, hunting for the women of their dreams, which amount to any man eaters they can find.
Before moving to Arizona in 2009, I’d never seen a tarantula. My wife had, though, and she’d just as soon do without them.
Oh, she understands they’re generally harmless and also beneficial, eating all sorts of pests, but her anti-tarantula mindset dates back to childhood. When Pam was maybe four and a half or five years old, she was out on the swing set when she spotted a tarantula right under her swing.
“Mom!” She yelled, “There’s a monster under my swing!”
Her mother made her stand up on the swing and hold onto the chain. Then big, tough Mommy (4′ 10″, 85 lb. at most) snagged a shovel, scooped up the spider without hurting it, and relocated the arachnid to safer territory. No harm, no foul, but the child was impressed nonetheless. She’d been told to run into the house during the spider relocation process…but she couldn’t. Her hands were frozen to the swing chains in sheer, paralytic terror, thinking, “If there’s one, there could be more!”
I, on the other hand, see them as the coolest arachnids on God’s green Earth.
Quite a few people keep tarantulas as pets, but in many cases, I wish they wouldn’t. There’s one horror of a YouTube video out there that illustrates why I feel that way.
The video is purportedly of two red rumped Mexican tarantulas mating. What it really shows, however, is a person with a camcorder who ought to be smacked upside the head.
It starts with a glass cage, in which the female has been living for some time. Outside, on the lower portion of the cage glass, the male is hanging out…until the human bully starts “encouraging” the poor fellow to climb the glass by pushing a plastic food container lid at it.
This is wrong on so many levels. A couple of examples:
1. Even a few minutes of online research makes it clear that tarantulas have relatively thin exoskeletons, especially around the abdomen. A fall of any kind can result in the death of an individual.
2. Mating between tarantulas is not exactly fun and games down at the soda shop. A fast male may escape being eaten after leaving his sperm behind, but not if he’s cornered in a glass cage.
The video title should have been Torturing a Sacrificial Male Tarantula Because I’m an Ignorant Imbecile with a Camcorder.
Watching one of these male tarantulas move across the land is an education in and of itself. That they are powerfully motivated is obvious. The biological imperative is everything. They’re not suicidal–far from it–but exemplify the “ageless male” need to mate and be done with it.
Or something like that.
It would have been awesome to get a video of the big spider, but these guys move way too fast for that. The entire photo session, snapping pics of the traveling tarantula, took no more than a minute or so at most and covered a good forty feet of open ground.
Still, I was honored that the little fellow (big spider, yes, but still a little fellow compared to me) didn’t seem to be worried about the human with the camera. At one point, I had hopes it might even come right up to my chosen stakeout position, then crawl up the leg of my jeans or something, just to say hello.
No such luck. I must not smell like a girl tarantula.
Pam, on the other hand, just told me she’s been seeing this same male searching the grounds for the past two days–and that he tends to walk the same route she does when she’s outside getting a bit of exercise. Not only that, but he’ll actually stop for a while and let her talk to him…and he often waits for her right by the door of the Subaru (passenger side, where Pam sits). The first time he saw her, he froze in position, but they’ve since developed a friendship.
So much for my wife being as freaked out about tarantulas as she told me yesterday.
Oddly enough, Pam had never told me the story of her redheaded mommy and the early childhood tarantula trauma. Here on our homestead, she’s reported tarantula sightings several times, hoping I could get out there with a camera, never giving a hint of distress.
Maybe she’d repressed the memory. That happens sometimes, especially with her.
Today’s desert tarantula didn’t look traumatized, though. He just looked like he needed to find a female, preferably before the sun finished going down.
Where are those women when you need them?
That’s all for the moment. On the other hand, who knows? We might someday get lucky, snag a photo or two of a female tarantula to add to this page. We did see one, once, a couple of years ago.