Boys’ Night Out
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Louisa hosted her book club the other evening, leaving me at loose ends. So, I decided to make the best of it. I strapped a cyclists’ lamp to my head and headed for Sabino Canyon after sunset. We tend to forget that there’s a night shift in nature. A huge number of creatures that we never see during daylight hours are active once the sun goes down.
It was a moonless and overcast night and the canyon was among the darkest places I’ve ever been to. There were almost no city lights to penetrate the darkness and everything was inky black outside of the little circle cast by my head lamp. What did I see? Well, several of these individuals.
The summer monsoon season — July and August — is breeding season for tarantulas. The males, all between about seven and ten years old, leave their burrows after dark and prowl around looking for receptive females lurking in their burrows. Success in finding an amorous female means reproduction and survival of one’s line. It also means death. Males die shortly after they mate, their purpose in life fulfilled. Females, on the other hand, go on living, often for as long as twenty or twenty five years.
Male tarantulas are easy to distinguish from females. The female that I showed the other day was covered with light beige hair. Males have dark brown or black legs and much darker abdomens than females. Their legs are longer than females’ legs and their bodies tend to be more slender overall than females’ bodies. But, perhaps the easy way to tell a male from a female is that females almost never leave their burrows whereas males wander when they look for love. See a tarantula out and about and it is almost certainly a male. I was very lucky to photograph a female outside of her burrow the other day, that almost never happens.
The male in the first image was huge, probably more than five inches across. The male in this next picture was actually larger.
He reacted to my light by assuming a defensive stance, rocking back on his hind legs and waving his first pair of legs and his pedipalps (those short “legs”) as if to say “stay away!” Of course, he was bluffing. Tarantulas are big softies. They would much rather run away than fight and they almost never bite.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 200, f25 @ 1/160.