The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Tarantulas embarking on season of love


September 12, 2017

Heavy summer rains signal activity for all kinds of things on the High Plains, most notably weeds and mosquitoes. But they’ve also been known to trigger love pilgrimages — of the eight-legged variety.

Mating season for tarantulas is nebulous, with the hairy, saucer-sized arachnids going on the prowl starting in spring. Traditionally in the High Plains they’re noticed most in mid-to-late-fall.

But this year’s heavy rains already have the randy fellows crossing roadways and marching through yards.

Though catching a glimpse of a monstrous spider moving slowly and methodically across a neighborhood street may be disturbing, for locals, the large spiders are a common and expected sight each year.

And many — even if a little creeped out — can’t help but admire their steady march as they head who-knows-where to do their part for the next generation.

The plight of the male tarantula is set in motion by mother nature long before his first conscious moment — somewhere in this vast country, females wait in hidden burrows, and it’s his destiny to go find one of them, woo, and successfully mate with her.

Sadly, there’s a good chance when he accomplishes his life-long goal his lady’s perspective will shift and he will be transformed from romantic partner into the only source of food in the vicinity — his journey ending in lunch … for her.

Mating migrations are a tarantula tradition that’s gone on as long as there have been tarantulas, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing new — at least from the human perspective.

Since the early 1900s, it’s been thought there were 55 species of tarantula in the United States, incidentally, with most calling New Mexico home. However, when a research team took on the task of verifying those species, they made a startling discovery.

Over a period of about 10 years, the team conducted an exhaustive search — literally looking under rocks, through nooks and crevices, fields, roadways and expansive wilderness — collecting 1,800 new tarantula specimens.

Specimens were carefully scrutinized and 14 new species were found. That includes the A. johnnycashi, an homage to its habitat in the terrain around Folsom State Prison, where Johnny Cash recorded Folsom Prison Blues. In the end, the original list of 55 was consolidated into only 29 that proved to be unique species, according to results published in 2016.

For example, the most common species encountered in eastern New Mexico was once confused and misidentified by up to eight species names, but has now been narrowed down to the single name of A. hentzi.

Diverse in coloring, the A. hentzi is predominately dark brown and or black, covered in hair and has legs that can measure more than four inches.

Females of the species can live up to 30 years, and lay as many as 1,000 eggs per mating.

While they may look scary, A. henzi’s bite is not considered harmful, and while they can also kick hairs from their abdomen into the face of a predator — again, it’s irritating, but not overly harmful.

Suffice it to say tarantulas would prefer to stay as far from humans as possible, but during migration time, they answer a higher calling.

As us humans observe the time-honored tradition this season, perhaps we can take a moment to congratulate A. henzi on finally securing a bona fide identity, wish him safe travels and, hopefully, a mate that’s already had lunch.

Sharna Johnson is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at:


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