Thursday, October 7, 2010

get out of the road!

Tarantulas make their move in Santa Barbara County
WARNING, if you're an arachnophobe you should look away and close your browser now. This post contains photos and video of some of the largest spiders in North America out looking for love. We think they are adorable and harmless, but we're keenly aware that we are weirdos that way and some folks will be revolted by what follows. So, if spiders make your skin crawl stop here, look away, and go get some ice cream or something soothing. For the rest of you critter loving dorks, read on...

Last October driving on a back road near Santa Maria, California mrs. a-go-go noticed what looked like a large spider on the shoulder of the road. Then there was another. The third was making its way down the middle of the lane. I swerved to avoid squashing it, and mrs. a-go-go hollered out, "I was right! they're tarantulas! Stop! Pictures! Aaah!".Camera in hand we chased that one down the center stripe; he was fast and didn't wait around for a photo op. That day we saw a few more on our way (and more than a few singing cows) and it prompted mrs. a-go-go to do a little research on the local tarantula habits. Finding that late September and early October is the season to see the big fuzzy (looking) fellas on the back roads we determined to go out for another look.Now, I am no expert on this subject and can't go into great detail about spider sightings or tarantula behavior but I understand it's the males that are out seeking a mate. We found a few references to this being a tarantula migration to ancestral breading grounds, but after thinking about it I'm not convinced that's what a spider specialist would call it. I'll apply Occam's razor and remain skeptical about there being some special place they migrate to. It's my hunch that in the areas with good tarantula habitat the males are just out looking for love, not all headed in one direction, but it's a swell myth anyhow. I hear tell that the males are out and about this time of year all over Southwestern North America.
Our drive along Foxen Canyon Road between Los Olivos and Santa Maria turned up quite a few sightings and we had to pull over and act like crazy people many times along the way. We'd run out in the road, capture a few portraits, and then encourage the poor victim of wanderlust back into the weeds. Two of the wayfarers were reluctant to leave the road. Maybe they like the warm pavement and the lack of obstacles. I coaxed these lubbers onto branched sticks and airlifted to the roadside brush. If you're into it and are going to try to pick one up on a twig use one that can take the weight. These are some heavy spiders, carry them very low to the ground. If they fall you may just maim the hapless bugger. The ones we coaxed off the pavement may likely find there way back into the road anyhow, but we couldn't watch them waiting for a treaded death.The range of colors was surprising. Some were quite auburn, others were grey, and one was near jet black. Some were sluggish and seemed that they had had enough, others were quick and skittish. One wheeled around so fast when I noodged him with a blade of grass that mrs. a-go-go jumped and caught her breath.

I did my best to get a "Giant Spider! Evacuate the city!"

This red shaded one did his best to look big and tough waving his spinnerets when I brushed with a blade of grass.

The quick and the dead... This resourceful guy was working over the squashed body of a rival near the center of the road as we approached. By the time we were out of the car he had gathered some bits, I suppose for a meal, and was on his way into the brush. You can see what's left of the other spider just off center at the top of the frame.

The increase in auto traffic on this back road due to all the small wineries springing up with their wine tasting rooms must be putting a dent in the tarantula population. We did not see too many squashed fuzzy bodies and the cars and trucks that passed when we were chasing spiders all seemed to be reasonably courteous and steered to avoid unnecessary death. Still, Foxen Canyon Road could use some tarantula crossing signs to encourage people to continue being courteous.

If you want to seek out a first hand big spider encounter now is the season. I don't suggest handling the tarantulas. I understand they are not very dangerous for their bite, but some folks could have a deadly allergic reaction to the venom. In addition their bite is rather painful, and some have special "hairs" (they really don't have hair quite like you and me) that can be really irritating to your skin and eyes. It's even worse if you inhale them. So, keep a little distance and encourage them off the road with a blade of grass. I did lift two off the road with a reasonably thick well branched twig. Again, if you try this, keep it really close to the ground. They are heavy enough to be mashed a bit by falling too far.

I'm certain there are other places beyond the back roads of Santa Barabara County where the fuzzy fellows are on the move, just do a little research on Flickr. Find the big spider pics and look for the location and date. A week ago we drove the same road on a warm afternoon and made no sightings. Our first encounter last year was on a cool overcast day before 11am and we spotted 5 tarantulas. This encounter was on another cool overcast day with some sprinkles of rain and we saw at least 10 big spiders. Don't know enough yet to suggest a particular time of day but cloudy and cool seems to be promising. Do drive slow, these are big spiders but they are still hard to spot unless they are right out on the pavement, and you wouldn't want to add to the casualties. Go! Tarantulas, Go!

For the curious here's more tarantula goodies:
American Tarantula Society
The Corsegold Tarantula Festival North of Fresno on Hwy 41 seems to be happening this year Oct. 30th even though they seem slow to update the web page.
a bit about Tarantulas at Mt. Diablo State Park
Gadzooks! it's the The Tarantula's Burrow
And brief tarantula facts from The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum


  1. I am so not a spider person (even bites by the little ones make me swell up and get feverish and pussy), but this still amused me and cracked me up. Very interesting, a-go-gos.

  2. Whoa! I like that first one the best

  3. Well, if I hadn't already thought you were the coolest couple ever this post would have definitely done it. Might I add, eeegads You two are brave, crazy brave!!! Be safe.

  4. WOW! The 'spiders' are huge. What a great idea to stop and take pix of the 'small creatures'.



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