Tarantulas In Our Backyard — Part I

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It’s been a long time since I posted images of a tarantula.  I would be remiss if I didn’t do so now.  It’s monsoon in southern Arizona and the huge spiders are increasingly active at night.  I’ve done a census of the tarantulas living in our backyard and I’ve discovered five of them.  There probably are more.

Tarantulas are among my favorite subjects.  I knew nothing about them when we moved to Arizona a decade ago and it’s been a continuous learning experience for me ever since.  That first summer I discovered a tarantula in our yard and I was hooked.  These creatures are fascinating.  

Here’s an image of one of our five residents.  This is a large individual and may be a mature female.  She is an example of the dominant local tarantula species, sometimes referred to as the Arizona Blonde Tarantula (there are other generic names for this species as well).  I think that she’s a female because of her overall beige color (“blonde”), but I could be wrong.  Mature males are much darker than are the females but they don’t show that dark color until their final molt when they are sexually mature at about 10 years of age.  So, this spider could be an immature male.

Legs included, this individual would fit comfortably in the palm of my hand. She’s not the biggest tarantula I’ve ever seen but she’s right up there in size.

Tarantulas are burrow dwellers.  A tarantula excavates a burrow and, if she’s a female, lives there her entire life, which may be 20 years or more.  Males stay in their burrows until they are about 10 years old. Then, they emerge to wander the land, looking for females to mate with.  The mature males die at the end of each breeding season.

I know that a lot of people get creeped out by these massive spiders.  There’s nothing to be afraid of, folks. Tarantulas are timid creatures that have zero interest in interacting with humans.  When I photograph these spiders I find them in total darkness, sitting at the edges of their burrows (tarantulas are strictly nocturnal).  If I approach too closely they can sense my presence by the vibrations I emit when I walk and they invariably retreat into their burrows.  Tarantulas are capable of biting but they won’t unless severely molested.  Their bite is about as painful as a bee sting and harmless to humans.  

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I’d done a census and discovered five tarantulas living in our backyard.  I photograph these spiders at night but I search for them in broad daylight.  In daylight I won’t see the spiders but I can identify their burrows. These are almost perfectly round holes, an inch (about 3cm) or more in diameter, with very sharply defined edges. When the tarantula retreats into her burrow she leaves a bit of silk webbing across the burrow entrance.  It is the webbing that distinguishes one of these spider’s burrows from, say, a mouse hole.

I’ll have more to say about my furry friends in the days to come.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L zoom lens, illuminated by Canon 600EX-RT flash, M setting, ISO 100, ISO 320, f10 @ 1/160.

2 Replies to “Tarantulas In Our Backyard — Part I”

  1. M.B. Henry says:

    Awesome photos – one of these days I’m going to get braver about tarantulas! Glad to hear they’re not as scary as they may seem.

  2. Sherry Felix says:

    I like spiders. Nice post.

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