Question of the Day: Why did the tarantula cross the road?

If you’ve been to the Wilderness Park recently, you may have spotted tarantulas out on the fire trails, and you might well wonder:

Why are so many tarantulas out now?
Why are they crossing the roads?

The tarantulas you see out on the roads this time of year are all adult males, and they are out looking for females. They really have only one thing on their little tarantula minds, and they are pretty oblivious to anything else.

A male California Ebony Tarantula (Aphonopelma eutylenum) crossing Johnson’s Pasture Rd in the Wilderness Park. On the front legs you can see the tibial hooks or spurs that are used to grasp the female during mating. ©Nancy Hamlett.


The females are found in burrows that are scattered across the landscape, and the males search for them by alternating between walking in straight lines and walking in concentric circles until a female’s scent is detected, suggesting that a burrow is nearby. The males may travel as much as 3/4 of a mile looking for a mate, and if a road is in their path, they just trundle on across it.

Once a male has found a female’s burrow, he signals his presence by doing some fancy drumming on the ground at the burrow’s entrance. If the female likes his drumming, she will emerge from her burrow, and mating can commence. The male uses special hooks on its front legs (which you can see in photo above) to immobilize the female’s fangs and position her during mating.

Autumn is the mating season for tarantulas, so that’s when you’ll most likely spot the males out on their mating missions. If we look at the distribution of tarantula sightings reported on our iNaturalist project, you can see that over 80% of the observations were made in August – November.

Tarantula observations in the Wilderness Park by month. Nineteen of 23 iNaturalist observations (83%) were made in August – November.

It’s not clear exactly how many tarantula species reside in the Wilderness Park. Only one species – California Ebony Tarantula (Aphonopelma eutylenum) – has iNaturalist observations labeled as “Research Grade”, meaning that the identification has been confirmed by a consensus of other identifiers. Steindacher’s Ebony Tarantula (Aphonopelma steindachneri) has also been reported, but the identifications have not been confirmed.

Different Aphonopelma species look very similar and can be extremely difficult to distinguish without molecular data (see Hamilton et al., 2016), so we never know whether one or two species are present in the Park. You can see all the reported iNaturalist observations of tarantulas in the Park here.

If you’d like to find out more about the tarantula’s life cycle, check out Ralph Washington, Jr.’s article in Bay Nature magazine.

Question of the Day: … but it wasn’t a rattlesnake … or was it?

Today’s question was posed to us by recent Park visitor.

The question is:
I saw this snake on the trail, but it wasn’t a rattlesnake … or was it? It didn’t rattle.

We checked it out!  Here is a photo of the snake in question:

Crotalus_oreganus_helleri-071219-3615.jpg

And the answer is:
Definitely a rattlesnake!

It’s a young Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri), which is the only rattlesnake that occurs in our area.  The only other snake in the Wilderness Park with a similar pattern is the San Diego Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer annectens).  Here’s how to tell them apart (image and information adapted from California Herps’ “Living with Rattlesnakes”):

rattlesnake-gophernake.jpg

Rattlesnake:
 Triangular head, definitely larger than neck
 • Thick, dull, non-gloss body
 • Blunt tail with one or more rattles

Gohpersnake:
Head only slightly larger than neck
 • Slender, glossy body
 • Pointed tail

You can see that the subject of our question meets all three criteria for rattlesnakes!

Close examination of this one’s tail reveals two rattle segments in addition to the terminal button (which it had when it was born).  Young rattlesnakes grow quickly, and they add a new rattle segment each time they shed their skin, so this one is probably less than a year old.

As evidenced by the snake that prompted the question, rattlesnakes do not always rattle. Again, from “Living with Rattlesnakes”: “They will often remain silent when they sense a threat, using their cryptic color and pattern to blend into their surroundings to hide from the threat. In this situation making noise risks advertising their presence. They also use their natural camouflage to hunt by sitting still and not rattling, trying to remain invisible as they wait for a warm-blooded prey animal to pass close enough for the snake to strike it,” although they do often rattle loudly to warn potential enemies of their presence.

Rattlesnakes are the only venomous snakes in our area. (Although some people might call them as “poisonous”, they’re not – poisonous snakes are technically ones that make you sick if your eat them.) Although rattlesnake bites can be extremely dangerous,  rattlesnakes are not aggressive or vicious.  They do not strike or bite without provocation. If rattlesnakes are given some space and time to escape to a safe place, they will usually just crawl away and avoid confrontation.

What should you do if you meet a rattlesnake in the Wilderness Park:

  • Leave it alone!
  • Give the snake a wide berth and walk by; if you can’t pass comfortably at a distance, retrace your steps.
  • Don’t even think about picking it up or poking it with a stick!
  • Don’t yell at the snake or throw rocks at them. They have poor hearing, so they won’t hear you shouting and hitting one with a rock will just irritate or injure the snake.

Be proactive to minimize rattlesnake encounters:

  • Be alert! Rattlesnake behavior changes with the weather. When they want to warm up, they may bask right in the middle of the trail.
  • Stick to the trails. (You’re supposed to do this, anyway!) During the day, snakes may hide in tall grass, weeds or heavy underbrush.
  • Check out stumps or logs before sitting down.
  • Don’t hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
  • Leash your dog. (This is already required in the Wilderness Park!) Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors.

What should you do if you are bitten?

  • Stay calm but act quickly.
  • Remove watches, rings, etc., which may constrict swelling.
  • Call the Claremont Police Department emergency number (909) 626-1296.
  • Transport the victim to the nearest medical facility.
  • Don’t apply a tourniquet, pack the bit in ice, cut the wound with a knife or razor, or use your mouth to suck out the venom!

More information:

What’s your question?  If you have a question about the Wilderness Park, please email us at info@friendsofthewildernesspark.org.

Question of the Day: Does the Wilderness Park have handicapped parking?

Question mark with a disable persons parking sign

We are starting a new feature – “Question of the Day”!  We won’t be posting a question every day – just whenever a question arises.   We’ve found that many Park visitors stop by our Second Saturday table with questions.  If we can’t answer the question on the spot, we’ll try to answer it here.  And even if we can, we may answer it here, too, since other visitors might have the same question.

So today’s question is:
Does the Wilderness Park have handicapped parking?

And the answer is:
Yes!
 There are two spaces in the south lot designated for parking for disabled persons:Two parking spaces for disable persons in the south lot.

and five in the north lot:Five parking spaces for disable persons in the North Lot

Not only are spaces available, they’re free!  Anyone with a disabled person license plate or placard may park without charge.  The Rangers tell us that these spaces are heavily used, so if you can’t find a free disabled persons space, you may park in any space for free provided that your vehicle displays the disabled person license plate or placard.

Do you have a question?  Send it to us at info@friendsofthewildernesspark.org!