In The Interests of Human/Spider Relations

A side view of a young tarantula with its abdomen raised on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC9976.arw

Last Sunday evening I headed out for a quick hike, while I brought my camera I really just wanted to get out into the desert for a little while. Late in the day as I started the hike back towards where my wife was picking me up, I saw a small black form in the middle of the trail ahead of me. As I approached it looked to my still-learning eyes like a tarantula, only shrunk in size 3 or 4 times. I was aware the adult males might be on the move in the fall but instead of fitting in the palm of my hand this one would have fit on my watch face.

I took a few quick pictures but wanted to encourage it to move to a safer spot, this trail is popular with cyclists and trail runners, so I tapped the ground behind it with my feet. Their eyesight is even worse than mine but they’re very sensitive to vibrations so I expected it to scurry up the side of the trail to more hospitable terrain, but while I could get it to move further out of harm’s way eventually it just stopped in the trail and raised its abdomen. Even as a neophyte I know that’s a sign of an unhappy spider.

I checked where the tread marks were and felt it had moved enough to be safe from the line the cyclists typically took and, tapping my toes having exhausted my ideas about how to get a tarantula to move, I continued on my way. A cyclist passed me several minutes later so I decided to backtrack to the little thing, though I really wasn’t in the mood to see a squished spider I was hoping for the best.

Thankfully when I arrived I saw it had fully moved up to the edge of the trail. In the interests of human/spider relations I avoided saying “I told you so” and was just happy it was in a safer place and pointed away from the trail. I took a few more pictures since it was so relaxed and continued towards the trailhead.

An overhead view of a young tarantula on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC0051.arw

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!

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).