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THE OUTDOORS DIGEST | FIELD GUIDE

Desert tarantula

September 28, 2004|David Lukas

(LA)[ APHONOPELMA CHALCODES ]

In the late summer of their 10th year, male tarantulas leave the security of their burrows in Southern California deserts on one final quest -- to mate. It's a journey fraught with danger. First the male must call a female from her burrow by plucking on her web like a captured insect. When she rushes forth to claim a meal, he holds her fangs at bay with specially designed hooks on his legs while inserting sperm before a quick getaway. Males either get eaten by females or escape to die in the cold autumn nights. Females live up to 25 years.

NATURAL HISTORY

The venom of desert tarantulas is solely designed to digest food and poses no threat to humans. But a patch of barbed hairs on their abdomens can brush off on the skin, causing major irritation.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS

About the width of a human hand; females are blondish tan, while males are dark brown with reddish hairs and black legs.

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