By Chuck Woodbury
Be thankful you are not a tarantula. It is not a good life.
First, a little background on the big hairy spider, then the bad news about its lifestyle.
We can thank the Italians for naming the tarantula. It seems that 15th century Italy was hysterical over “tarantism” which was thought to be caused by the bite of the tarantula, which, by the way, was named for the southern Italian town of Taranto. I bet you didn’t know that.
Tarantism, it seems, would really mess somebody up. Only by dancing frenziedly until dropping from exhaustion could an afflicted person be cured of the melancholy and stupor caused by the bite. That’s what everybody thought, anyway. Even today, the “tarantella” is a popular Italian folk dance.
Unlike other spiders that spin webs, tarantulas dig burrows where they spend most of their life, which can be pretty long: a female, for example, can live to be 30 years old. At night, the females climb out of their burrows to hunt in their neighborhood, eating other insects and even other spiders.
A female is ready to breed at 10 to 12 years, a male at 8 to 10 years. Mating is sort of complicated, but basically the male transfers his sperm to the female by placing it in her abdomen. If he’s smart, he’ll then get lost pronto before she decides to eat him. Talk about a crummy deal!
The female eventually lays between 600 and 1,000 eggs. They hatch about seven weeks later; the babies then hang around the burrow with Mom for days or even weeks. That must be one crowded burrow! Finally, they go their own way.
AND NOW THE HORRIBLE THING ABOUT BEING A TARANTULA
Tarantulas have quite a few enemies, but none more dreaded than the cold-blooded tarantula hawk, a large blue-black wasp with orange wings. If one of these creatures latches onto a tarantula, it’s really big time bad news for the spider. Here’s why: First the wasp will paralyze the tarantula with its stinger. Then it will drag it into a burrow where it will lay a single egg right on top of it. Finally, it will cover everything with dirt.
And then comes the bad part: One day, a worm-like wasp larva emerges from the egg. And do you know what it does? It starts eating that poor, paralyzed tarantula while it’s still alive! And this could last up to three months!
Can you imagine? I thank my lucky stars I was born a person.