Yes, I know. Spider Phobia is about tops on the list of phobias.
I used to be like that. Until I learned.
Spiders rock. They are so beautiful, and they kill and eat insect pests, like moths and flies and mosquitoes (Mosquitoes are flies, btw) and all sorts of terrible disease-vectoring awful insects!
I used to work with the American Tarantula Society, and I kept many spiders then. It was great fun and fascinating.
I posted an essay here under my previous name, mieprowan, about my experiences with keeping tarantulas under the auspices of the American Tarantula Society.
That was in June of 2009, when there was a bad drought in South Texas.
It got a lot of response and I'm going to reprint it here.
Here's the link to the original post, so you can see the comments.
"Tarantula Spring, Spider Emergency?"
It was spring, and the tarantulas were keeping me awake. All around me their cages loomed, above me on their built-in shelves; as I lay in bed, fruitlessly attempting sleep.
"Tic tic tic! Keek-keek, keek-keek!" Taps and little scritching noises. That was the boys, saying in spider-talk; "Hey, I know there’s girl tarantulas out there, and close!"
They did this a lot, once they molted into maturity and developed their palpal bulbs and tibial spurs, both of which male tarantulas need before they can mate. All dressed up and ready to go! The noises are what they make in the wild, at the entrance of the burrow of a girl tarantula, to let her know she has a gentleman caller.
The girls were more shy...only occasionally would I hear a responding drumming from another cage. In the wild, they’d be doing that from down in the entrance to the burrow – hello! Are you really a date, not some predator trying to eat me?
With a hundred or so Texas tans in your bedroom, many of them mature spiders, it can get pretty noisy in the wee hours. Here's a nice photo of one, looks just post-molt since she's so pretty (you can tell she's a girl from how broad her chelicerae are; that's the parts over the fangs)
Texas tans are from South Texas, from the general area that is currently in a drought emergency ranking category four; exceptional, the highest category. (drought monitor link here)
All south of Austin, and I'm not sure A. anax ranges up even that far north.
I worked with the American Tarantula Society in the last decade of the previous century, and in the process had the exceptional opportunity to work with a great variety of spiders and other arachnids. I’ve been looking at the drought map the last few days, since another Kossack languishing there posted a link. It must be hard on the humans, not being allowed to have gardens, for all practical purposes.
But it may be even harder on the Texas tans; Aphonopelma anax.
These spiders are one of the largest North American species of tarantula. The females can grow to have resting legspans of over five inches, and may have lifespans of several decades. They are also, like so many North American tarantula species; quite docile overall. These are nice spiders.
When I was working with the American Tarantula Society, which was when I was living with spiders from stem to stern; the founder of the organization (now retired); Spider Bob, would trek back down from Carlsbad, NM; to Brownsville, TX annually, to collect some of these critters from the general vicinity. He did that, I think, three times.
The environmentally sensitive among my readers here may be thinking; "Oh no! He took out specimens from fragile ecosystems, and now South Texas is in drought and these wonderful spiders are all now gone!"
Well, no; not exactly. He collected them from a variety of places; a good desert rat Spider Bob was (and likely still is). But Spider Bob is also an extrovert, and good at talking to people, and a hard-core environmentalist; and to some extent, he talked people into letting him mine their lawns for these spiders.
Texas tans are a little more requiring of moisture than many other species of desert tarantulas. Just a little. And that was enough to turn them synanthropic; i.e. they thrive around humans. They would tend to burrow around where there was some extra moisture, and humans are good at herding moisture around. Humans are also good at leaving food around, and attracting vermin, and large ground-dwelling tarantulas like Texas tans are quite capable of invading mouse burrows and lunching on the occupants, when they're not taking out cockroaches, or beetles. Whatever insects or small rodents stray near the burrow entrance are fair game, and all the spiders tend to hang around the burrow (strike that; their individual burrows), except the guys when they mature, and have to pay the ultimate sacrifice of being exposed to the elements as they search for the burrows of lady tarantulas. That's what "tarantula migrations" are; the guys looking for mates. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
Spider Bob would bring back maybe 100 at a time, 200 at most. I think he made three runs, and every time he’d talk to me about his concerns about not overharvesting. But mostly I got the impression he’d gotten them out of areas watered by humans, because it’s really hard to find desert tarantulas otherwise; it takes decades for substantial colonies to develop. And even here in Carlsbad, where we have Mastigoproctus giganteus, the giant vinegaroon; also a commercially salable arachnid critter; the easiest place to find them is in lawns. You could spend weeks walking around in the desert, and find about as many as I could flood out around my house this evening.
So, there I was, off and on over those years, with a plethora of horny spiders in my room. Well, I didn’t always have them in my bedroom, but there they were.
We didn’t breed the tans much, because the spiderlings weren’t worth much of anything, though we learned how to right off the bat; in fact Spider Bob had worked it out well before I started working with him.
But, we did learn to sex the older ones, even when immature, and thus were able to sell off breeding pairs and trios and whatever, when we weren’t working on learning how to breed other related genera and species of tarantulas; and writing about that too, in our journal.
Between the two of us, and with the help of everyone else who got interested in breeding tarantulas on the cheap; we were likely personally responsible for much of whatever breeding stock of A. anax is currently extant in the pet trade.
And now I’m wondering; what’s going on with the wild population? Not so much, maybe. Did I actually manage to help keep an entire species alive? Me and Spider Bob, and all those other araneophilic people?
Maybe so. Maybe so.