Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Warm and Fuzzy

     No, I’m not talking about your bedroom slippers, but you might want to shake them before you put them on. Many of us have seen this fuzzy little guy in our gardens or perhaps even in our homes. They can look menacing but are quite harmless and are very beneficial. So, what am I referring too? The small, common black tarantula.
     By tarantula standards, this guy really is small. As an adult they only have an average body length of 1.5 inches. I know what you’re thinking but, consider this, the Goliath Tarantula found in South America, has an average body length of five inches with a leg span of twelve inches.
     Now, that is a big spider!
     Once you get past the sci fi horror flicks, tarantulas are not that fearsome. On the contrary, they are quite fascinating. Here’s some tarantula trivia: They have eight eyes closely grouped together, a pair in the middle and three on each side of the face. One would think with all those eyes they would have superb vision, but they actually have poor vision and rely on vibrations to detect their prey.
     Their unique respiratory system consists of two pairs of slits on the underside of the abdomen that lead to organs called book lungs. Book lungs have many folds close together like pages of a book, through which blood passes to acquire oxygen from the outside air. Tarantulas grow very slowly and take several years to reach sexual maturity and seek out a mate.
     Hatchlings actually stay near the mother for two to three weeks, but then they better vamoose if you get my drift. As tarantulas grow, they molt, basically shedding its ‘skin,’ much like a snake does but, with a few more benefits. When threatened, tarantulas rub their hind legs over its body, brushing off irritating hairs into an enemy’s eyes or nose. The result, that conspicuous bald spot seen on the rump; these hairs are replaced during each molt; if a leg is injured or partially broken off, it may regenerate a new one, as well.
     Tarantulas are nocturnal hunters. They do not spin webs to capture their prey; instead they pounce on it and inject venom; which in turn breaks down the tissue, turning it into a “spider slurpee.” They will catch virtually anything of the right size that moves within range, but prefer small insects like grasshoppers, beetles, cockroaches, etc.
     Tarantulas are typically ground dwellers living in burrows. Some have been known to build silken retreats in trees, cliff faces, rock crevices or in plants such as bananas.
     They have many natural enemies including lizards, snakes, birds etc. But, the spider wasp is the Tarantula’s most dreaded enemy. It paralyzes the spider with its poisonous sting, drags it to a prepared burrow, or should I say ‘tomb’ and proceeds to lays its eggs in the spider’s abdomen; exits and seals the burrow. Upon hatching, the wasp larvae feed on the tarantula’s body.
     While tarantulas may be fuzzy, they’re not too high on the cuddle list. Nevertheless they do have a rightful place in the great outdoors, and should not be wantonly killed or persecuted. Tarantula bites are rare, and pose no threat to humans. If its presence is not desired, it can be easily placed in a container and relocated to an area where it can continue to live its useful life.