All He Needs Is Love
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I’ve been prowling Sabino Canyon in total darkness for the last couple of weeks looking for an adult male tarantula to photograph. Last night I was successful. This is a male Mexican Blond Tarantula (a/k/a Arizona Blond Tarantula). I know he’s a male because of his dark coloration — females of this species are much paler — and also because he’s out roaming the desert at night. Females are homebodies: they never wander more than a few feet from their burrow entrances.
He’s a big boy. This individual is larger than the palm of my hand. What’s he doing out at night? In late July and August the mature males of this species — individuals who are about 10 years old — are seized with the need to reproduce. They wander the desert, looking for receptive females. If they meet and if the female is enamored, they mate. And then, the male dies, his life’s purpose achieved. Females, by contrast can mate and reproduce over and over. Whereas a male tarantula lives only a decade or so, a female may live for more than 20 years.
Many find these huge spiders to be repulsive. Not me, I think they’re beautiful. And, if not beautiful in the conventional sense, then fascinating. They are gentle giants. Tarantulas almost never bite people and one has to really provoke the spider in order to get it to bite. A tarantula’s bite is not dangerous, it is about as intense as a bee sting. These spiders generally flee from human presence. I was actually surprised that this one stayed around long enough for me to photograph it.
Tarantulas have a unique defensive mechanism. Their bodies are covered with stiff hairs. When threatened, a tarantula will position its abdomen in the direction of its foe and use its hind legs to brush off abdominal hairs that, hopefully, get thrown into the would-be predator’s face. These produce a reaction that discourages the predator. I once watched a curious prairie dog approach a tarantula, who responded by throwing hair in the prairie dog’s face. The prairie dog began sneezing violently as the tarantula walked away.
Tarantulas have terrible vision. His eyes are arranged in a circle at the top front of his head. He can barely distinguish light from darkness. His most significant sense is that of vibration. These spiders are exquisitely sensitive to vibration.
I really don’t know how one of these finds a mate. I doubt if they just blunder into each other by random chance. My guess is that they emit vibrations that we cannot sense but that they can. In any event, I watched as this one eventually wandered off into the darkness, looking for love. I wish him well although it’s a bit sad that he’s at the end of his life.
Images made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 125, M setting, f14 @ 1/160.