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Yesterday I was poking around in the brush in the riparian area near Sabino Dam when a bit of commotion caught my eye. It was a large pepsis wasp — a Tarantula Hawk — and a tarantula, squaring off for a fight. Female pepsis wasps actively search for tarantulas and, when they encounter one they attempt to administer a paralyzing sting to it. The paralyzed tarantula then becomes food for the wasp’s offspring.
However, this encounter broke off before any blows could be struck and before I was able to get a photograph of the action. The wasp and tarantula circled each other for a few seconds and the wasp then flew away. Perhaps it was my presence that broke the wasp’s concentration, I don’t know. That left the “victor,” — the tarantula — in possession of the battlefield. Although the wasp didn’t stick around, the tarantula did, for about a minute, before she crawled back into her burrow and I was able to get some photos of her.
This is an Arizona Blond Tarantula, a/k/a Mexican Blond Tarantula, and she’s a girl.
She gets her name from the pale brown fur that covers her body and legs. Males of the species tend to be nearly black, have more slender bodies than females, and much longer legs in proportion to their bodies.
She’s about three inches across, somewhat on the small side for one of these spiders and, perhaps, she’s still just a kid. She will live for about 25 years if she can avoid getting turned into wasp food.
She will spend nearly her entire life in a burrow, emerging only to seize prey, to mate, or to defend herself from aggressive wasps. She is a classic ambush hunter. Look closely at her head and you’ll see that her eight eyes are really tiny and are arranged in a compact circle. In fact, she has poor vision. But, she compensates for that by being exquisitely sensitive to vibration. An insect blundering by her burrow, or even a small mouse, will cause vibrations that she can feel with her feet. Anything coming close enough is likely to be seized by her.
If you look just below her eyes, you’ll see a very large pair of fangs. They are her killing tool.
A lot of people are terrified of these big spiders. There’s no need to be. One will almost never bite unless it is badly provoked and its bite is about as painful as a bee sting. A tarantula’s primary defense — if running away doesn’t work — is to use its hind legs to brush off hairs from its abdomen. These are intended to get in the face and eyes of a would-be predator and to cause a distracting irritation while the tarantula makes good its escape.
I was extremely fortunate to have been able to photograph this tarantula. One almost never sees females. Males, on the other hand, tend to wander around quite a bit in mid-summer, looking for romance.
Photos taken with Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens, ISO 200, “M” setting, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, f16 @ 1/160.