Tarantula Night In Sabino Canyon

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Last night I made my weekly night hike in Sabino Canyon.  It was a beastly hot night — still 100 degrees when I arrived at 8:00 pm and at least 95 an hour later.  The lingering heat had its effect on wildlife.  For most of the evening I saw next to nothing.  Things changed towards the end of my walk when total darkness arrived.  I started seeing tarantulas.

Tarantulas are members of an ancient order of spiders known as “Mygalomorphs.”  There are only a handful of identified tarantula species in the United States.  Our local tarantula, the Desert Blonde, is prevalent in northern Mexico, with its range extending into southern Arizona.  Physically, these spiders are the largest tarantulas to be found in the United States.

Tarantulas are strictly nocturnal.  In order to find them one must be prepared to do a fair amount of poking around in the dark.

I know that many people find these spiders to be ugly.  I don’t, I think that they’re rather endearing when one gets to know them.  They are completely harmless to humans and extremely timid.  A tarantula’s primary defense is to run and hide when confronted. Many of the individuals that I saw last night (I encountered around a dozen) did just that.  They would head for their burrows and play peek-a-boo with me, prepared to retreat further if challenged.

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This individual is debating whether to stay put or to retreat.  Its head is facing towards me in this image.  Its eyes are the glowing dots at the image’s center.

Female Desert Blonde Tarantulas tend to be a sort of medium to dark beige in color with a few areas on their legs and abdomens of a darker hue.  Here’s a female that stayed above ground just long enough for me to capture her image.

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In this image the spider’s head and eyes are at the top left of her body.  Her darker abdomen is at the rear.  I’d estimate this spider to be around 4 inches in diameter.

Males tend to be much darker in color than females.  In the Monsoon season the males leave their burrows and go looking for love.  They invariably die after mating and the males, consequently, have much shorter lifespans than do the females.  An adult female can live for more than 20 years; a male for about 1/2 as long.

Here’s a male that is unusual in two respects.  First, it is much smaller than most adult tarantulas, being only about 2 inches in diameter.  Second, this male’s entire body is dark. Normally a male would have a light colored cephalothorax (the front half of his body) even if his legs and abdomen were very dark.

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And, lastly, here’s an old friend.  I’ve visited this female’s burrow several times and she’s ever-present.  She lives near Sabino Canyon’s parking area and I suspect that she’s lived there for many years, perhaps for as long as a couple of decades.  She is gigantic, perhaps six inches in diameter. She’s also, perhaps, the calmest tarantula I’ve ever encountered.  Nothing seems to faze her.  Perhaps that is because she lives in such close proximity to humans that she’s become inured to us.

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Images made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180mm f3.5L Macro Lens, assisted by Canon EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, f13 @ 1/160.

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