Steve: Spiders interesting to watch — from distance

One of my favorite times of the year is at hand — the annual tarantula migration.

It was part of my introduction to New Mexico five years ago, and it’s fun to watch the big arachnids make their annual dash across the road as long as I can keep my distance

When crawling at cruising speed, New Mexico’s tarantulas are three or four inches long from the tip of the front leg to the tip of the diagonal rear appendage. They’re black until you get close. Then you can see they’re actually brown with a three-day growth of black stubble all over their bodies, except for the pale yellow hairy patch just behind the eyes on the cephalothorax.

They’re anti-social. They don’t acknowledge your presence unless you get directly in their way. Most creatures that get as close to me as some of the tarantulas I’ve encountered will at least act startled. These arthropods don’t even break stride.

It’s easy to get away, since tarantulas are not fast. They plod, even though their eight legs alternate rapidly to produce motion, like a violinist’s fingers doing sixteenth notes in an andante passage.

The migration continues from late August through much of September, and it’s all guys — party time. Like some of their human counterparts, the only urge that gets them outside is sex. For the rest of the year, tarantulas favor spider holes, smaller versions of the one in which they found Saddam Hussein.

The debauchery they plod toward could easily be their last. They perform mating rituals in the webs of silk that serve as welcome mats for the female spider holes. When the female responds the male jumps right in, and sometimes, if the female likes the guy maybe, he may live. If not, one authoritative source says, he nourishes the next generation of tarantulas.

I don’t know what the males do if they fail. After my failures with the opposite sex, I could at least drown my sorrows in beer. The male tarantula, however, seems to have little choice but to go back to the old spider hole, sulk, and wait for his next meal to tug at the silk in his entryway.

Meanwhile, they’re fun to watch — from a comfortable distance.

Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at shansen@qcsunonline.com

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