05 June 2008

Tarantulas on the Roads

One of the seasonal sitings in the lower elevations of the Sierra Nevada is the tarantula spider, a brown creature the size of one's hand that wanders about during the warmest months of the year. From late May (once the temps get up into the 90s F.) these large, hairy spiders can be seen along the windy roads in the foothills, between elevations of 1,000' to 4,000'. I know some of you out there do not like spiders, so I'll make the image small. Click it to make it a proper size.

I've lived in the Sierra Nevada for many years, and I am always thrilled when these spiders come out. June and September are typically good months for seeing these creatures, as they wander about during the daytime then, crossing roads in search of something. I have yet to see even one of these spiders so far this year, but they should be visible any day now. Temperatures have been somewhat cool for May and June, and it could be they need a bit more warmth to trigger whatever it is that makes them begin wandering during the daylight hours. Being spiders, they are nocturnal for the most part. Years ago, a naturalist told me they wander about looking for a mate or water. I was also told that Sierran tarantulas eat mostly vegetation. They do have fangs and venom, and will bite if seriously provoked.

One of the most amazing places I've seen tarantulas is on a stretch of country road in the foothills of the Sierras, southeast of the town of Porterville, along the road that winds toward Glenville (a tiny, tiny town). The area is rolling foothills, covered in grasses and oak trees, with cattle grazing on the hills and all sorts of hawks and eagles flying the skies. I have seen as many as 50 tarantulas all out wandering the same 10 mile stretch of road, all at once! Fortunately, I had my camera with me that day and stopped to take a few photos. The spiders pretty much kept walking, and didn't pause at all until I got right on top of the spider, with the camera less than a foot above!

24 comments:

Ted C. MacRae said...

Most of the tarantulas seen crossing roads are males searching for females, which are much less inclined to leave their burrows. You can distinguish males by their enlarged "feelers" in front of the first pair of legs (almost makes them look like they've got 5 pairs of legs!) and small abdomen.

Tarantulas (and all spiders) are strictly predaceous, feeding chiefly on insects - although some tarantulas have been recorded taking an occasional small vertebrate!

We have them in the Missouri Ozarks - it's always a treat to see a male crossing the road (usually in September).

zhakee said...

Predatory sounds right to me. The day I saw 50 or so tarantulas must have been one heck of a day for lust in the air. I wonder if the females knew all those males were heading their way. I also wonder how far a male can scent a female, and vice versa.

Kathiesbirds said...

I saw my first wild tarantula here in AZ last year around this same time. Thanks for all the good information!

Cheryl said...

Wow....as a wildlife gardener I love the spiders in my garden but I have to say they really make my flesh creep. I did find the post interesting and enjoyed reading it.

Cindy said...

yay i refound you! this sure brings back memories.. great photos and a wealth of info.. not sure if i could pick one up as i did as a youngter tho (eeks)getting you up on my sidebar so i can visit again soon :)

Keana said...

My kids and I went for a walk at night. My son says mom look! I could'nt believe my eyes!!!This HUGE BLACK HAIRY SPIDER!!!!I'm freaked out!!! I live in Folsom CA and I must live under a rock because I had no idea we had Tarantulas here...I'm interested to learn more about these spiders and where they can be found all over CA...

zhakee said...

Keana, I think tarantulas can be found in all of the hot, dry parts of the state, from the deserts to the foothills. Since there are dry hills over a good part of the state, I think you could encounter one while out walking in many hilly areas. They like grassy oak woodlands, and I've seen many that type of habitat.

Doing an internet search to try to get specifics on where to find them in California, I don't have any luck at all, just a mention here or there of some person seeing one. My own experience has them below 4,000 feet in elevation on the west slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and in the deserts. They live in the Bay area in dry hilly areas too.

You won't encounter them very often, they come out at night, and even then your chance of seeing one is very low. They live in burrows in the ground and the burrow is about 2 inches across, with a net of web covering the opening and that web only just covers the opening. Tarantulas don't use a web to trap food, so they just make a "door" over the burrow. I don't even know if they always make such a door.

Don't worry about tarantulas if seeing such a large hairy thing tends to make you "freak out". They are harmless, do not invade houses, they are just another one of the many creatures that inhabit the land.

Wikipedia has the best compilation of information anywhere I've found thus far, on the web. It seems tarantulas live around the world and there are hundreds of species of them.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarantula


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarantula

Anonymous said...

My husband and I saw our first up close and personal tarantula yesterday on the patio of our house. We live in Squaw Valley, near Kings Canyon. It was a lovely tan color, huddled in a ball most of the time, until it came sauntering into our living room. My husband sent it sailing out into the brush by scooping it up with a shovel.

Zhakee said...

Finding such a huge spider in your house must have been an adrenaline rousing experience! Squaw Valley is at the perfect elevation for tarantulas. This time of year they wander around, searching for food, mates, and hanging out. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

My brother and his wife were visiting my mom in Squirrel Valley (Lake Isabella) this past weekend when she felt something on her leg in bed. At first she thought it was my brother, then she threw back the covers and there was a tarantula crawling up her leg! My brother says it was the size of his hand, but my mom said it was a small one. Haven't seen the pics yet to know one way or the other!

Zhakee said...

That sounds like something one does NOT want to experience! I wonder how such a large spider found its way into the house? Good screens on all the doors and windows should keep out most critters except tiny ones.

Monica said...

I think somehow they can come in through pipes. My brother lives in Placerville, CA and has found tarantulas in his house three times, always in the bathtub.

Anonymous said...

never thought i would see one of those here. It was just starting to get dark and i almost stepped on him.i raced down the hill to get a box so i could show him to my dad (don't worry i would return him)but when i got back he was long gone. maybe i'll see him again tomorrow and possibly get a pic.

Barb said...

Years ago I remember traveling to the Kern river. I don't remember what road? It was daytime and they were everywhere! I wanted to google today to find information as why tarantua's would be in large groups during daytime. Your blog and everybody's comments were helpful. Thanks!

Barb

zhakee said...

Hi Barb, tarantulas like the foothill elevations in these mountains, so you were most likely on the main road into the area, which would be hwy 178 (goes from Bakersfield up a very windy canyon with a river right next to the road), or you may have been on a windy back road that went around a zillion very tight curves, perhaps thru the mountain town of Glennville.

My experience with tarantulas is that they come out in abundance in spring, like around May when things warm up, and then again in the fall around October. Like huge numbers cross the roads during those times.

The most t's I've ever seen was in the Glennville area. One drive there were dozens and dozens and dozens of the things in about a ten mile stretch of road. Crazy numbers, happy spiders.

Alex and Roxy said...

We were out walking at dusk in Angels Camp and found what we thought was someone's halloween bauble. Almost picked it up, but paused to shine the flashlight on it. OMG!!! Put it in a jar temporarily to photograph it and find out more about it, and released it a few hours later to its natural habitat. YIKES!!!

zhakee said...

Alex and Roxy, that sounds rather exhilerating! Releasing the thing after admiring it for a while sounds like the perfect way to end the encounter. Happy "haunted" woods.

Anonymous said...

I just saw one on October 3rd in the foothills outside Reno Nevada. I am still wondering if it was someones pet that they let go. I have never seen any around where I live.

tom G. said...

I live in Reno, NV., at 4700 feet. Just had a very large Male Tarantula try to come into my garage as it was getting dark. Don't know where he came from but he scared the beejesus out of my wife who is deathly afraid of spider of any kind, much less this giant.
Sorry folks but the Tarantual is "history".

Tom G.

Jackie said...

Hi Tom, I'm sorry to hear the spider is history, but I totally understand.

Unknown said...

Caught a pic of a beautiful black specimen at work a week ago just east of Reno....

Jackie said...

Sounds "lovely" in a hairy, spidery kind of way. I have seen ZERO of the things this year. I think October is when they head for water in the fall in my area so maybe I'll see some then.

Anonymous said...

So it looks like we have one in our garage window. We're in the foothills outside of Sparks, NV. I think it's a "he". He's about 4 inches long.
Scared the daylights out of me until someone confirmed that it is a tarantula. This I a okay with, but some scary and unknown arachnoid... not so much. Lol
This guy, though, he can stay and I'll calm down.
We did have a lovely, large praying mantis in the same (garage) window last week... I have to wonder if he was this guys lunch. Frankly, if prefer to have both living in my garage.

Jackie said...

Preying mantises are pretty awesome predators too. The insect population in your garage should be under control with such residents.