They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re all together ooky, but they’re not the Adams family this time. They’re the thousands of tarantulas on a migration path right now in search of a mate.
Oklahoma Brown tarantulas are one of only a few species of tarantula spider native to the United States, and currently, they’re on the move. These fuzzy, eight-legged, arachnids can be most commonly found in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Colorado, and you guessed it, southern Kansas.
Ranging on the smaller side for tarantulas, a male Oklahoma Brown’s leg span reaches about five to six inches, with females growing a little larger. The males tend to be lighter brown in color while the females are a bit darker, but both sexes sport black legs. You may have never come across this species before as they prefer to spend most of their time in their burrows. The spiders will burrow under wood or flat stones but will also occasionally take refuge in abandoned dens of other small animals.
Like all spiders, the Oklahoma Brown is venomous. This venom is used to capture their insect prey, which includes a variety of crickets, grasshoppers, and locust. Their help with pest control makes Oklahoma Browns a true friend of the farmer. While they do have venom, their venom is not toxic enough to truly harm the average healthy person. A bite will cause a small injury; symptoms include pain, irritation, and redness. Tarantula bites often produce a localized reaction, but symptoms will lessen after a few days.
Bites from this spider, as well as all spiders, can be easily avoided by simply leaving the spider alone or taking precautions. A great way to deter spider bites is to shake out shoes and clothing that have been in storage before using again. Many spiders prefer dark, quiet, places, and your winter shoes make a great secluded vacation home.
Tarantulas also give plenty of warning when they feel threatened; they will rear back on their hind legs, reaching their front legs into the air. A tarantula’s way of saying “back off buddy”.
Currently, the spiders are leaving their dens and traveling in search of mates. Once they find a mate, the female will lay up to 1,000 eggs, which she will keep guard over in her den. The eggs will hatch in about 50 days. The spiderlings will hatch but stay with mom for a few days before leaving to find their own burrows.
Females of this species have been known to live up to 40 years. However, males tend to live much shorter lives, rarely living over a year once fully matured, which takes around seven to twelve years.
The movement begins in August, but the migration will be at its height during September. The bulk of the spiders traveling are males around ten years of age in search of females. The males are showing up in big numbers in the southeast Colorado area around La Junta. It’s been recommended that the best area to view for these spiders crossing is located on Highway 109 south of La Junta on the Comanche National Grassland at around 6 p.m. with Sept. 10 being the peak day.
If you’re interested in seeing an Oklahoma Brown tarantula and learning more about this species, consider visiting “Curly,” our resident Oklahoma Brown living in the Kansas Neighbors habitat in the Finnup Center for Conservation Education. You can visit Curly as well as several other species of animals native to Kansas including snakes, toads, turtles, and a black footed ferret. The Finnup Center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed over the noon hour. For more information, give us a call at 620-276-1250.
Emily Sexson is the conservation education manager at Lee Richardson Zoo.