Jennifer Stanley/ August 20, 2020/ Local/ 0 comments

#OnlyInSedona Critters — What to Know About Tarantulas

What’s soft, cuddly, fuzzy and has eight legs? It’s one of Sedona’s most iconic arachnids — the tarantula. 

The most common variety you’ll find around these parts is the Arizona tarantula, also known as the “western tarantula” or “Arizona blonde tarantula.” While they might look frightening, you have nothing to fear. They’re harmless to humans and downright handy critters to have around. Read on to learn what you need to know about tarantulas, Sedona’s spookiest-looking but friendliest spider. 

Photo by Oleg Didenko on Unsplash

Photo by Oleg Didenko on Unsplash

1. Tarantulas Aren't Too Poisonous

This friendly guy gets a bad rap. They often play scary roles in horror movies, ironically enough, because of their placid nature. Most tarantulas take to human handling well, and they are reluctant to bite. 

While their fangs do contain venom, it is mild and not fatal to humans. The most substantial danger from keeping one as a pet lies in their belly. The hairs from their abdomen can cause redness and irritation of mucus membranes — if you can refrain from smooching your spider friend, you shouldn’t suffer adverse effects. 

2. Tarantulas Like to Hike

If you enjoy hiking the beautiful wilds you’ll find #OnlyInSedona, you’ll share the path with a few of these fellas. During mating season, each male travels up to a mile to find a suitable mistress. You’ll occasionally see one on the sidewalk — please let the poor guy alone. He only enjoys getting frisky once before his partner bites his head off, so let him have his fun. 

In many parts of the West, such as Colorado, mating season falls toward the beginning of September before the females bed down for winter. However, here, even spiders get testy in the worst of the summer heat. They tend to complete their business in June. After the female enjoys a hearty meal of her ex, she retreats to the coolness of her burrow to gestate. 

3. Tarantulas Hibernate Like Yogi Bear

You won’t find many of these creepy crawly critters trying to raid your pic-a-nic basket during the winter months. Like other spider species, they hibernate in the cold season. 

Where do they sleep? Most tarantulas in these parts build burrows in the sandy soil. However, they can hide out under piles of leaves or other debris. Unlike some other species, these big fellas don’t typically enter human homes uninvited. 

4. Tarantulas Are the Methuselahs of the Spider Kingdom

Female tarantulas can live upwards of 30 to 40 years. If you’re considering adopting one as a pet, make sure you’re prepared for the commitment. 

Males, unfortunately, hoe a tougher row. Once they reach maturity at the age of four or five, they spend the rest of their lives looking for a mate. Someone might want to clue these fellas in that their search won’t end pleasantly for them — but are they champs at taking one for the team? 

5. Tarantulas Are Not the Same as Wolf Spiders

Just because you see a huge fuzzy spider, don’t automatically assume it’s a tarantula. Wolf spiders are a different species. Both do live in Arizona, but if you put them side by side, you could see the variance immediately. 

Therefore, if you’re visiting from the northeast and you think you once saw a tarantula in your house, buckle up your seat belt. The largest wolf spider is only 1  1/2 inches long, while tarantulas can grow up to four, not counting the legs. Tarantulas don’t live in New England, and once you see one of our desert critters, you’ll say, “Oh, no. Now that’s a tarantula.” 

6. Tarantulas Play a Vital Environmental Role

If you’re lucky enough to spot a tarantula on a Sedona hike, please leave the critter alone. It won’t attack you, but it plays a vital role in our ecosystem. 

Tarantulas keep small animal and insect populations in check. Have you ever seen a Palo Verde beetle? It’s like a cockroach on steroids. One glance of those behemoths is enough to make you grateful for the adorable spiders that sometimes devour their larvae before they reach adulthood. 

7. Tarantulas Have an Arch-Nemesis

The desert southwest is home to some fascinating creepy crawlies. One of them, the tarantula hawk, is like the Joker to Bruce Wayne. These winged wasps seek out spiders to sting, and if they find one, they paralyze it with their venom and use it as an incubator for their eggs. The hatchlings then eat their eight-legged host. 

If you see this going down, try to resist the urge to save the spider. It probably is too late, and the sting of a tarantula hawk is one of the worst pains on the planet. 

8. Habitat Loss Threatens the Tarantula

While the desert tarantulas you’ll find in Sedona are not an endangered species, their status could change in the near future. Housing developments threaten their natural habitat. 

Because Sedona is surrounded by public land, these majestic critters have ample wilds to roam. If you decide you do want a pet, please adopt one from a reputable shop. Although gentle, treat these creatures as you would any other part of our delicate landscape — take a stunning photo and then leave it alone. 

Tarantulas Are One of Sedona's Most Fascinating Creatures

Even if you have arachnophobia, it’s nearly impossible to look at one of these giant spiders without a sense of wonder. Now that you know what you need to know about tarantulas, keep your camera ready. Maybe you’ll capture a shot of one of these magnificent creatures on one of the hikes you can take #OnlyInSedona. 

Photo by nifei cao on Unsplash

Photo by nifei cao on Unsplash
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