volunteer studying the structure of a spider’s burrow near Lamar, in southeastern Colorado, holds a female tarantula after pulling it out of its burrow . The tarantula is then released.
Every fall, in this flat, sprawling corner of southeastern Colorado, thousands of animals roam, some with eight legs, some with two.
Scientists, nature enthusiasts and members of this rare, spider-obsessed subspecies of humanity witness something extraordinary as groups of fist-sized male tarantulas emerge from their burrows to search for mates in the short grass prairie.
Parking lots filled up and cars lined the roads on the 440,000-acre Comanche National Grassland and nearby Vogel Canyon.
Charlie Fox, a flooring installer in suburban Denver, and his two grandsons were looking into a spider hole. Fox, 70, owns 10 tarantulas and loves excitement. He lost half his toe in an unsuccessful alligator fight at a reptile park, with the remaining toe in a gift shop. And fight the serpent with noise.
tarantulas cross paths as they search for a mate at the Southern Plains Land Trust in southeastern Colorado in September. The male will shake his leg at the entrance of the female’s hole in the hope that the vibration will attract the female. When it works, they stand face to face and perform a mating dance. (The Denver Post via Helen H. Richardson/Getty Images)
“I love tarantulas and these guys want to see them in the wild,” he said. “When the sun goes down, I will look for snakes.”
On a nearby highway, tarantulas clumsily moved along the pavement as traffic slowed to avoid being crushed. So many people die each year that scientists propose tunnels to help them pass through certain highways.
Aphonopelma hentzi , commonly known as the Oklahoma or Texas brown tarantula, lives as far east as Louisiana, with particularly high densities in this part of Colorado.
One of the largest cities in the area, La Junta is building a tourism industry around the spider, hosting a tarantula festival, a tarantula website, and tarantula murals throughout the city.
“We want to be known as the Tarantula Capital of the World,” said Mayor Joe Ayala. “We want to be a house where tarantulas roam.”
Tarantula fans say spiders don’t deserve their horror movie fame. Despite their wild appearance, tarantulas are mostly docile. Their bite is painful, but the venom is usually harmless to humans.
At worst, they can produce tiny hairs that irritate the skin; Researchers call it “hair”.
Jackie Billot, 36, fell in love with spiders while growing up in the Denver suburb of Aurora. He used empty ketchup and mustard containers from his grandfather’s restaurant to catch them.
I really wanted a tarantula, but my mother didn’t want one,” he said. “When I was very little, we bought ants and balls and made birds.”
Today, she is a graduate student at Colorado State University, studies tarantulas and shares her home with 64 of them, as well as four scorpions, a black widow, two snakes, a jumping spider that just gave birth, a colony of insects . pretending to die and three dogs.. .
Earlier this month, he and several other hikers and volunteers went on a prairie hike near the town of Lamar, 55 miles east of La Junta.
They arrived during mating season to study tarantula burrows, whose intricate shapes may help explain how they survive Colorado’s harsh winters. Each spider digs its own burrow and spends most of its time there.
This month, La Junta, population 6,900, hosts its first annual Tarantula Festival with music, a beer garden, a parade, an eight-legged race and tours of the tarantula pastures led by expert guides.
One of the most decorated tarantula paintings covers the side of the Halloween store. Another adorned a wall in Livewell Park. And when a car drives through the local real estate office, they cover the hole with plywood and paint a tarantula.
“It was a case of taking lemons and making lemonade out of them,” said Pamela Dennahy, the city’s director of tourism and events.
La Junta isn’t the first Colorado city to celebrate a native animal or plant with a holiday. Denahy hopes the tarantulas will give La Junta the same economic boost that snow geese, sandhill cranes, mountain plovers, elk and even watermelons have given other communities.
A sign outside the Junction 50 gallery reads: “Tarantula brings information here.”
Char Hosea, who runs a stall there, plays with a comical tarantula doll he made.
“When we first moved here, we had a big one on our front porch,” he said. “If you get too close, they will attack you.”
Billot, 36, a graduate student at Colorado State University, looks at two female tarantulas she caught while exploring tarantula burrows, whose intricate shape can help explain how the spider survives in the bright red color. it stays cold (Helen H. Richardson/Getty Images via Denver Post)
Her husband, Cliff, says it’s not always easy to dodge on the road.
“When you’re walking on a hill, it’s hard to miss,” he said. “There will sometimes be 40 people on the way.”
In Vogel Canyon, about 15 miles away, people wandered the fields looking for tarantulas.