Ask most people and they will tell you love can be risky business, but this time of year, one species has a monopoly on that risk: tarantulas.
They are migrating through America’s plains by the thousands, and they are looking for a mate.
It is an annual pilgrimage that takes place across parts of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, as these spiders look to procreate in a short amount of time, but the journey can be treacherous.
“It’s kind of a really sad story when you think about it,” said Cristi Painter, a wildlife biologist with the National Forest Service in La Junta, Colorado. “So, [the male spiders] reach sexual maturity and they need to go find a girlfriend. If they’re lucky and don’t get munched by something along the way or squished by a car they find a girlfriend and she doesn’t eat him and he can leave, but a lot of the times they mate, and she eats him.”
It is the unforgiving nature of nature that is on full display for people to see in parts of these states from early September through late October.
Each year during these months, thousands of Oklahoma brown tarantulas crawl their way along La Junta, Colorado’s road to love, looking to procreate. After eight to 10 years of staying close to their burrows in the southwest United States, it is the male’s one shot to find a female spider, and they either succeed and die when that mate eats them for protein, or they just die from natural causes and the impending cold that November brings.
“It makes me feel bad for the little dudes,” said Painter. “You know, he just wants a girlfriend and hopefully one that doesn’t eat him. And if she doesn’t, he’s going to die anyway.”
Over the course of the last few years, the National Forest Service in La Junta has promoted the migration as it is one of the few times when people can see hundreds of tarantulas roaming across the plains.
Typically, they stay in their burrows for safety and only venture out at night to find food. During these months, however, after the summer heat cools just enough, they make the trek to find a mate.
“We’ve counted as many as 50 [tarantulas] in an hour and a half. That’s pretty substantial,” said Lyn Neve, a National Forest Service employee who gives tours.
Neve’s job is not to show people tarantulas, rather the place they call home and all it has to offer. But over the course of the last few years, inquiries from folks nationwide have consistently touched on one subject: the tarantula migration.
“I’ve been answering phone calls left on our voicemail and up until this week I would venture to say a vast majority of those phone calls are people wanting to come to see tarantula and they want to know where to look for them, too,” said Neve.
Neve warns people to be gentle if they do come across a tarantula as they are delicate creatures. A fall from only a foot or two can break their legs.
While they are not poisonous, tarantulas do contain venom glands that they can inject into their prey.
A bite to a human is rare, but if it does happen, Painter says it might feel like a bee sting and very rarely will result in any sort of dangerous reaction.
This article has been updated to reflect Lyn Neve's correct title as a Forest Service Employee