Why Did the Spider Cross the Road?
To get to the other side. Right? Yes, but specifically, probably to get to a potential love interest on the other side. Every year, when the leaves start to change colors, in late August and September, mature males aged 8 to 10 years old, set out on the quest they have been building up to their entire lives – to find a mate. This is the highlight of their life and also the end. Once they mate, the males will die soon after. Females, on the other hand, live up to 25 years, have multiple mates over the years and stay close to home waiting for the gentlemen to come to her. Ain’t it great to be a dame?
Pueblo residents are used to seeing this annual love parade. Sightings of the migrations abound from highways to golf courses to playgrounds. Although tarantulas are not particularly dangerous to humans, it is important to leave them alone and let them go about their business. Imagine a giant swooping down from the sky and displacing you from all you know - especially when you were on a mission as important as propagating the species! Plus, though they look hardy in size, their exoskeletons are quite fragile and they are easily injured through handling. Contrary to popular belief, tarantulas do not protect themselves by injecting predators with venom. If they do bite, it only amounts to something akin to a bee sting. Their preferred defense is shooting stinging hairs from their abdomen at would-be predators.
Rather than use the precious venom for defense, tarantulas use it primarily for digesting prey. They paralyze their prey by injecting it with venom then use digestive enzymes to turn the meal into a soupy liquid that they then suck out.
The Pueblo Zoo is home to Oklahoma brown tarantula, Frodo, who lives in the Discovery Room. If guests look carefully, they may see the dry, empty exoskeletons of crickets left after Frodo’s dinner. The Zoo also has an ambassador Chilean rose-haired tarantula named Rosie that Puebloans might encounter at outreach events or in classrooms.
Fact Box - Greg Rohr
Taxonomic Rank: Class Arachnida Order Araneae Family Theraphosidae Genus Aphonopelma
Common Name: Texas or Oklahoma Brown Tarantula
Description: Being a fairly small tarantula, these spiders only stand 2-3 inches in height and about 3-4 inches in length. Like other species of tarantula, they have a larger abdomen, which is approximately the size of a quarter. This is where most of the internal organs are kept. The abdomen is tan in color and the legs tend to be a darker brown. Like other species of tarantulas, males are much smaller than the females. The cephalothorax is where the chelicerae (or fangs) are located. The whole body of the spider is covered with barbed, urticating (or irritating) hairs.
Like all spiders, this tarantula has venom, which it uses to immobilize and kill its prey. This venom poses no severe threat to humans, unless they are allergic. Instead, for defense, they will flick the hairs from their abdomen in to the face of their predators.
Diet: Opportunistic carnivores. They will eat insects, other spiders, and even small rodents.
Range: This spider primarily lives in the southern U.S., but can be found in New Mexico and Colorado as well.
Reproduction and rearing: In August or September, the males will seek out a female using the pheromones that she uses to indicate that she is receptive for mating. The female will lay hundreds of eggs in her egg sac and she will protect them. Young may stay with her 3-6 days after hatching, but after that, they are left to defend on their own.
Lifespan: Over 30 years for females, 2-10 for males. Males might live to 15, but this is rare.
Threats: This spider has not been assessed by IUCN and is considered common; however, pesticides and harvesting for the pet trade can harm local populations.