Tarantulas and Other Spiders
An autumn visit to Pinnacles National Monument is often rewarded with a sighting of one our most fascinating creatures, the tarantula. September and October are the prime months to see male tarantulas ambling resolutely day and night in search of mates. They investigate every potential burrow, looking for a female ready to lay eggs in her specially prepared nest.
Why don't you see tarantulas during the rest of the year? They are always here, but they are usually much more secretive. They spend the day in their burrows, emerging to hunt only at night. At any time of year, if you look carefully on the ground for small holes lined with silk, you might see a tarantula looking back at you! You'd be surprised how small a hole a tarantula can fit into.
Part of the Food Web
When the female tarantula hawk is ready to lay her eggs, she leaves the flowers behind and goes on the hunt for a tarantula. Upon finding one, she paralyzes it with a sting. Even though the tarantula is several times her own weight, she drags it to a hole, lays her eggs on it, and buries it. The eggs soon hatch into wasp larvae which slowly devour the paralyzed tarantula alive, from the inside out.
Walking up Walls
What's in a Name?
"Tarantula" was the name originally given to the southern European wolf spider (Lycosa tarentula) and referred to the town of Taranto, Italy. It was believed that the bite of this spider would cause the disease of tarantism, the symptoms being uncontrolled weeping and jumping about. The victim would finally go into a wild dance called the Tarentella. This dance is now a popular Italian folk form and has inspired several famous composers to write classical versions. Scientists have not studied the tarantulas of California well enough to be able to give the tarantula found at Pinnacles a specific scientific name. It is most likely in the genus Aphonopelma. Do you know anybody who would like to study our tarantulas?
Boy or Girl?
Other Spiders at Pinnacles
Hairless tarantula: This spider is about half the size of the more commonly seen tarantula. It lacks stinging hairs, and it is quite aggressive.
Green lynx: Look for this spider in the fall on small flowering shrubs, where it catches insects visiting the flowers. It can be very hard to see, but once you find one, you will often find more nearby. Also look for its white egg sacs.
Black widow: This well-known, highly poisonous spider advertises "danger" with the red hourglass on its underside. Its web is exceptionally strong.
Crab spiders: Look carefully on flowers for these spiders. They hold their long front legs wide open, waiting to snatch their flower-visiting prey.
Diguetid spiders: Although you may never see one of these spiders, their webs are quite conspicuous in California buckwheat shrubs. Look for a vertical tube filled with debris, above a flat cone of threads.
Did You Know?
National monuments are created by a presidential proclamation, and national parks are set aside by acts of Congress. Other units of the National Park System include recreation areas, seashores, national historic sites, and memorials.