A Second Look

An overhead view of a male (I think) desert tarantula as he sits on grasses and a rock beside the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in August 2019

The trend of being too tired to go hiking in the morning continues with one exception, I woke up early on Monday and couldn’t get back to sleep so I went for a short hike before work. I was rewarded with my second look, and first good look, at a tarantula since we moved here. I’ve just started researching them but I think this is probably a male, and probably out looking for a mate. If so, he’s not got much time left on this earth. Given that I saw the bobcat on a quick hike before work, perhaps next time I’ll also see something unusual. Fingers crossed, maybe the Sonoran sasquatch aka the desert yeti!

Changing of the Guard

A male Gila woodpecker prepares to leave the nest in a saguaro cactus as the female waits outside with a spider in her beak

A male Gila woodpecker prepares to leave the nest as his partner brings a spider for their hungry children inside the saguaro. Both parents excavate the nest cavity, the cactus will slowly harden the inside to prevent water loss and it is only then that the woodpeckers can use the cavity as a nest. You can see how much of the surrounding surface of the saguaro has been scraped away as they created their home and now land over and over again.

Threat Assessment

A tarantula tries to hide in a crevice under a rock

I grew up thinking tarantulas were deadly assassins that would kill you if you crossed their path, as I lived far from their domain and my impressions were formed based on how I saw them portrayed on television. We love to demonize and vilify certain animals (and worse, people) based on primal fears, and on deliberate lies told to mask the real threats, but in truth tarantulas are not a threat to us. As my wife and I walked down the path and stopped to watch this tarantula in New Mexico, she noticed us (their vision is poor but they are good at sensing vibrations in the ground) and ran over to this rock and tried to hide in a crevice but was slightly too big to fit. I always feel bad when I frighten an animal when I hike but thankfully she decided to trust us and climbed out onto the rock. A lesson my young self did well to learn – I was the threat.

A tarantula climbs up a rock

My First Tarantula

A tarantula walks across the Little Arsenic Trail in the Wind Rivers Recreation Area of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico

My wife and I were hiking up from the Rio Grande on our trip to New Mexico in 2007 when we met this lovely little creature on the trail. It was the first (and so far only) time I had seen a tarantula, a couple of job opportunities I’m pursuing are in areas where we might meet again. This one could still be out there, the females can live up to 20 years (the males only half as long).

Come Here & Let Me Give You a Hug!

A female goldenrod crab spider lies in wait on the underside of an aster blossom

Don’t do it, ye bees and butterflies of the world, for in her inviting arms awaits a deadly embrace! The front two pairs of legs of the goldenrod crab spider like this large female are much longer than the back, as she doesn’t spin a web to catch her prey but rather waits for them to land on her flower, embraces and immobilizes them with a venomous bite, then sucks the fluids from their bodies. While they often hold out all four long legs to grab their prey, In this particular case she’s using two of her long legs to gain extra purchase on the petals of the aster and holds out only her two frontmost legs. From the front of the flower she was invisible save for two tiny feet sticking around the edge of the petals.

Defender of the Pollen

A goldenrod crab spider sits below a clump of pollen on a purple coneflower

After a much-needed summer shower, I grabbed my macro lens to take some pictures of rain drops on the flowers in our garden and was amused by this little crab spider seemingly defending the last remaining clump of pollen on one of our purple coneflowers. Her life is actually tied to the pollen, as she is lying in wait for a pollinator like a bee to land on the flower so she can kill and eat it.