In the spirit of Halloween, I offer the Amazing Ambling Tarantula. You might find this fellow a bit creepy, but read to the end for the real freak-fest.
These big, hairy arachnids give many people the shivers, but their bite is less painful than a bee sting. In fact, if you irritate a tarantula her first line of defense will likely be to launch a few itchy "urticating" hairs at you from her abdomen. A human too big to eat isn't worth the waste precious venom. Plus, they're pretty docile unless molested.
In the fall hoards of male tarantulas (which are smaller and lankier than the females) can sometimes be spotted marching out to find mates. The females, meanwhile, are safely tucked into burrows, waiting. I've not been lucky enough to witness this, but I've heard friends describe with awe. DesertUSA.com describes it in detail.
Like black widows, female tarantulas tend to eat their mates post-coitus, which hardly seems fair after all the work the boys have put into finding and wooing those girls. But this still isn't the creepiest part. Keep reading.
I'd never had the opportunity to hold a tarantula until I volunteered at the California Living Museum (CALM). As a docent, I was privileged to share Harriet with visitors. The children were often standoffish initially, but usually recognized Harriet's beauty in the end.
Adults were considerably harder to win over.
Okay. Here's the freaky part. Don't let this innocent-looking, Halloween-colored insect fool you. The Pepsis wasp or tarantula hawk is a devil in disguise. Here's her story:
The already-mated female wasp seeks out a tarantula and paralyzes him with a sting. The wasp then drags the spider to her den. (I've seen the dragging part and was too mortified to remember to take a picture! Perhaps you're feeling fortunate to not have to bear witness to that. Perhaps you're disappointed, in which case you can find a picture here.)
The wasp then lays her eggs in the still living spider, and buries him. Alive! When the eggs hatch the larvae have fresh, still living meat to feed on.
Now you may cringe.
It may also interest you to know that the tarantula hawk is considered to have one of the most painful stings, surpassed only by bullet ants. (Yeah, I never heard of bullet ants either.)
I told you the tarantulas are the good guys. Don't you agree now that you've heard the whole story?