SAN DIEGO — Don’t be surprised if you see a fuzzy arachnid scuttling across the road somewhere in San Diego County this month: It’s tarantula sighting season.
That’s because the male spiders are out “looking for love,” says Cypress Hansen, the science communications manager at the San Diego Natural History Museum.
This time each year, reports start rolling in from suburban and rural areas like Poway, El Cajon and Ramona — and even more urban neighborhoods, Hansen said. Residents spot tarantulas crossing the street, wandering backyards, hiding in homes or even floating in pools.
People mostly see the males, which can travel considerable distances in pursuit of females during mating season. That makes mid-August a rare time where you’ll see spiders strutting their stuff mid-day, as opposed to sticking close to their burrows and only venturing out at night.
Hansen acknowledges that tarantulas creep people out. But size and spooky appearance aside, the large spiders are “extraordinarily docile” and are “very, very unlikely to bite you,” she said.
In reality, humans pose much more of a threat to the spiders than the other way around.
Hansen asked people not to interfere with males on their quest for a mate, as the spiders play an important role in San Diego County’s desert and grasslands ecosystems. Tarantulas eat other spiders, millipedes and centipedes, crickets and even small lizards, helping keep those populations in check.
While their venom is enough to take down insects and other little critters, it’s not potent enough to kill or even seriously harm a person, according to Hansen. A tarantula bite is painful, and likely cause for a precautionary trip to the doctor. But it’s easy to simply give the spiders some space and avoid a bite.
“We encourage people to observe wildlife from afar. Don’t worry about them, they’re never going to actually attack anybody (unprovoked),” Hansen told FOX 5.
And before a tarantula bites something threatening, it signals its intent with a move that Hansen likened to a dog’s growl or a rattlesnake’s rattle. Tarantulas rear up, lifting their front legs and bearing their fangs. Hansen likened the lifted legs to “boxing gloves” — like a fighter putting up their dukes.
If you spot a spider in your home and you need to move it elsewhere, Hansen said scooting them into a container with a piece of cardboard will likely do the trick. Unlike rattlesnakes, the county isn’t concerned enough about the spiders to come out and remove the animal, so you’ll just have to be brave if you must move one.
If the spider’s on the move, simply wish it well on its journey to find a mate. It’ll have to make the most of it, because Hansen says the males don’t have long to live.
Typically, male tarantulas live five to seven years and reach sexual maturity only in the final year or two, she explained. Females, meanwhile, live 20 or even 30 years. They lay low waiting for a mate each year, then lay eggs in their burrow and care for the young, before repeating the process with a new mate in the future.
“Occasionally they consume the males after mating,” Hansen mentioned casually, almost as an afterthought.
If you want to learn more about tarantulas in San Diego, you can visit the Natural History Museum’s “Living Lab,” which hosts live animals of the slimy, slithery, creepy and crawly varieties.