Mt. Diablo State Park is about 1-1.5 hours east of San Francisco, and is rich with trails for hiking and mountain biking, wildflowers, wildlife habitat, and – on clear days – 360-degree views extending East toward the Sierra Nevada mountains, and West to our home city. Its terrain this time of year is hot, dry, and scrubby.
October is prime tarantula season at Mt. Diablo. This I first discovered with B. when we took a hike there a few years back. Remarking on the amazing geological formations (serpentinite, basalt, shale, chert, sandstone, graywacke) there that take you on a Trail Through Time, driving back down from the 3,849-foot summit we saw what seemed to be a mirage: several furry black arachnids crawling onto and across the road, in search of heat.
This is their nesting time. And if you’re lucky enough, you can happen upon a ranger program at the Summit Visitor’s Center. There they feature several of the fuzzy creatures, even allowing visitors to hold (although not handle) them. Fascinated, I put my hand out flat as the ranger placed a several-inch black female on my hand. I held perfectly still, and so did she. She was remarkably mellow.
Both genders produce webs – males exuding a sperm web from special spinnerets in their genitals, and females spinning a sac to guard their precious eggs. Females, usually larger and longer-lived than males, may live for more than 30 years. These amazing spiders are burrowers and live in the ground, although they also make wonderful pets. (One of my friends as a teenager had a tarantula she lovingly named Angus, after AC/DC’s beloved guitarist.) While the bite of this spider was once believed to cause “tarantism,” a wild dancing associated with the tarantella, it’s now known that tarantulas generally aren’t dangerous to humans. In fact, as I felt the tiny (retracted) claws at the ends of her sticky feet, she reminded me I was alive.