Tarantula mating season in California is here, and the spiders are certainly out looking for love. Egged on by the warm weather and pre-winter sunshine, male tarantulas leave their underground burrows in search of females to make honest arthropods out of them.
"This weekend or next weekend is going to be the biggest spider movements of all,” Al Wolf, director of the Sonoma County Reptile Rescue, told CBS News. “All the males will be looking for the girls, so it’s gonna be eight-legged love or spider romance.”
Most of the male tarantulas have spent the last five to 12 years of their lives in their dens, so you can imagine the sense of urgency they must feel to locate a mate.
There are about 900 species of tarantula worldwide. The spiders inhabit parts of the southern U.S. and Mexico, Central America, South America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. And they’re no small arachnid. According to National Geographic, some tarantulas have leg spans reaching 11 inches. The nocturnal predator’s main prey is insects, but bigger game like frogs and mice are also on the dinner menu.
During California’s tarantula mating season, there’s a delicate courtship taking place at ground level. After leaving its den, a male tarantula approaches a female’s burrow and tastes the silk around the outside to see if a mature female lives there. According to CBS News, the male then raps on the surface above the female’s burrow – the spider equivalent of throwing pebbles at a prom date’s window – to announce his arrival and that he’s interested in getting to know her.
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And he makes no ifs, ands or buts about his reason for being there, either. The Huffington Post reports that the male tarantula even has his sperm hanging in a “sperm web” on the outside of his body.
The female tarantula might not answer her suitor at all, but if she does, she’ll welcome the male tarantula with open fangs. After insemination, the male better make a run for it. Often, females, if feeling hungry, will overpower and chow down on their male callers.
After mating, the female will wrap both the eggs and the sperm in a cocoon and watch over it for six to nine weeks. Then she’ll become the proud mother of 500 to 1,000 baby tarantulas.
If reading about the tarantula mating season in California makes your skin crawl, don’t fret too much. "They look ferocious, but surprisingly most tarantulas, at least those in the United States, are pretty harmless,” Wolf told CBS News.
California residents are most likely to encounter the copulating arachnids on hiking and biking trails.
“If you are out for a walk or a drive on an early autumn evening and you happen to see a giant hairy spider making his way over the ground, don’t react with fear,” eNature.com advises. “Just wish him the best of luck.”
The tarantulas’ mating season will run until the first few rains of winter come in.