In Texas, Halloween Is Valentine’s Day For The Brown Tarantula

“They’re not wanting to attack you. They’re kind of on a mission and so they really don’t want to be interrupted.”

By Kristen CabreraOctober 31, 2019 2:16 pm,

When Bonnie Martin’s routine was interrupted on a recent October morning, the sun wasn’t even in the sky yet.

It was a normal start to the day at Martin’s home in the Northwest Hills neighborhood of Austin. Martin’s daughter went outside to leave for school, and that’s when it happened.

“She came running in about thirty seconds later and was screaming at me ‘Oh my god there’s a huge spider,’” Martin says.

When Martin ran outside, she saw a large black spot above the garage door. This spot had eight long legs and was moving slowly. It was a Texas-sized tarantula.

But finding a tarantula in Central Texas in the fall is not a surprise for Dave Molendorf, an arachnid specialist who’s studied Texas tarantulas for the past 30 years. He says we are in the thick of mating season for the Texas Brown Tarantula.

“What happens a couple of times a year,” Molendorf says, “is the males, they spend all their life in their burrows or under rocks or wherever they happen to abide. And after they molt their skin, the final time, they come out looking more sleek.”

This is a sign the tarantulas have officially matured. So they head off in search of the female tarantulas.

Texas A&M entomologist Wizzie Brown says that during the mating season the female Texas Brown is more of a homebody.

“They created a nice little burrow and they pretty much hunker down in there,” she says.

The females have different chemical signals and vibrations they use to attract the males. And once a pair meet up it’s unlikely they’ll encounter each other again, as male tarantulas in the wild usually only live a season or two. So the females tend to outlive them, says Brown.

“They can live surprisingly, a long time. Anywhere from eight to 25 years. And that usually creeps people out,” she says.

Being creeped out by spiders is common. According to Mark Powers clinical psychologist and the director of Trauma Research at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, 60% of the U.S. population doesn’t like spiders, while only about 10% actually have a phobia of them.

Powers was once part of that 10%.

“Well, actually, you’re talking to a person who used to have a phobia of spiders,” he says.

But after Powers worked through treatment for his phobia he began keeping tarantulas as pets — a common yet, unintended side effect.

“I actually started buying tarantulas myself,” he says. “And if it weren’t for my wife, I’d keep them at home as well.”

Molendorf knows tarantulas are a special kind of pet. But he cautions disrupting them in the wild, especially during mating season.

“When the males come out looking for love, that’s when you start finding them all over the roads. But If you find one just leave it alone, let it go,” he says.

Texas tarantulas are not deadly. If they bite a human, it would be equivalent to a bee sting, says Brown. And right now, they’re just looking for love.

“They’re not wanting to attack you,” she says. “That is not their purpose. Especially the males. They’re kind of on a mission and so they really don’t want to be interrupted.”

And after all, isn’t looking for love scary enough?