Life can be tough for the tarantula

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By Gary Every

I love tarantulas. You have to respect a spider that can stay alive for twenty-five years. The large furry spiders wander across the desert during the summer monsoons.

Normally tarantulas stay close to their holes, traveling only as far as they need to hunt crickets and the other creatures they dine upon. During the summer monsoons the tarantulas begin to migrate. Partially this is because hard rains will flood their homes.

A closer look at the migrating spiders will reveal that most of them have pinched abdomens that identify them as males. These migrating tarantulas are looking for love.

It is one of the most romantic pilgrimages in the animal kingdom. These lovelorn spiders will sometimes traverse the terrain for miles searching for a female.

When the bachelor spider comes courting he approaches the females den which has a small web spun across the door. The male tarantula uses his fangs to pluck a love song on the strands of her web as if he is plucking out the notes of melody on the strings of harp.

As if that were not enough while he is playing this love song all eight of his legs dance feverishly, performing a courtship dance for his potential bride.

What female could say no to his proposal in the face of such love and devotion? When the lovemaking is finished the female devours the male. A few bachelor spiders are fortunate enough to escape and love again, but very few.

There are worse potential fates that await tarantulas. Sometimes, one sees black wasps with orange wings flying the desert skies. They are relatively harmless to people but for the tarantulas it is another story.

This is one of the more gruesome tales in all of the animal kingdom. The tarantula hawk will sting the tarantula and paralyze it. The skinny wasp drags the giant spider to a burrow and stuffs it inside.

Then the tarantula hawk lays an egg on the paralyzed tarantula. When the young wasp hatches it will devour the tarantula bit by bit as the spider lies there helpless.

One day I was hiking in Sedona, taking the Sugar Loaf Trail beneath the shadow of Coffee Pot Rock, I saw a black and orange wasp dragging a paralyzed tarantula. I started taking photographs of the gruesome event.

Two little old lady tourists asked what I was doing. I told them in gory detail. The old ladies were probably trying to discover one of Sedona’s metaphysical vortexes, seeking spiritual enlightenment and here I was giving them nature red in tooth and claw. They left me alone.

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