Tarantula Walk and Blacklighting for Insects

August 18, 2012:  The seasonal changes make The Reserve an exciting year-round destination. Each month brings with it the appearance of new plants and the dormancy of others -and new animal species that usually remain in hiding will emerge and be seen anew. You would think that there would not be much life moving around during the hot summer months in the coastal sage scrub of Orange County. But, all you have to do is get your walking shoes on and go outside, and you’ll discover new life everywhere. The wild world has its own dependable rhythm.

Around mid-August, each and every year, solitary male tarantulas can be found roaming the trails at the Richard and Donna O’Neill Conservancy. For about a month, these fascinating creatures are on the move. Why is it that males wander this time of year? Well, this is the time that males mature. They abandon their burrows and wander out in search of mates.

Participants during the recent “Tarantula Walk and Blacklighting for Insects” program discovered tarantula burrows. The burrows are usually the size of a half dollar coin and have a silk collar that lines the entry. The entry may be open or may be covered with a thin veil of silk or a thicker “plug” of silk, dirt and debris. Soon came the first call of “Tarantula!” and everyone quickly walked to the first sighting of a tarantula walking along the side of a path. There was excitement with each new sighting – there were 7 tarantulas discovered that evening! Participants noticed differences in each tarantula – size, color, behavior. While most tarantulas were black, there was one blond looking spider, which evoked much discussion. Was it a different species or was it ready to molt? We could only speculate. Everyone who attended this special Tarantula Walk learned the many adaptations that these fascinating creatures possess. For instance, in self-defense, they may use their legs to kick hairs from their abdomens into the eyes of attackers. Many people don’t realize that our tarantulas are actually quite docile. A tarantula’s bite hurts no worse than a bee sting, and tarantulas are not easily provoked.

To top the evening off, guest leader Larry Shaw draped a white sheet over a pole structure and hung black lights along the top of it to attract night flying insects. The variety of insects that visited the blacklighting area was a sight to behold. Big and little, colorful and bland, flying and hopping – they all had a story to tell.

Summertime programs at The Reserve usually take place in the early mornings or late evenings in order to beat the heat. Soon though the cooler months will be upon us and they will be bringing their own beauty and wonderment with them. Stay tuned…

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