A recent Payson Roundup front page featured a picture of a giant tarantula striding across the Rim country.
It was easy to see that this was no ordinary-size tarantula by comparing it to the two mug shots on either side of the beast -- of town Public Works Engineer LaRon Garrett and schools Superintendent Herb Weissenfels. The tarantula's head was roughly the same size as theirs, and, even more frightening, it had more hair than either one of them.
But head size was only the beginning of the similarities between the trio. It turns out that Garrett, Weissenfels and the tarantula are all "mature males." We already supposed that Garrett and Weissenfels fell into that category, but at first glance the tarantula showed no outward signs of either maleness or maturity.
The proof that our spider was a mature male came from the story that accompanied the picture by Roundup publisher Richard Haddad. In it he wrote, "The tarantulas observed in Rim country are usually mature males in search of the burrows of mature females after the heavy deluges produced by the summer monsoons."
And with that informative statement, Richard has given us quite a bit to work with, starting with the very simple and undeniable fact that we are all -- mature male humans and mature male spiders alike -- brothers under the skin. And we will leave that very simple and undeniable fact alone and move on.
Because I seriously doubt that our mature male tarantula was searching for the burrows of mature females so he could have a cup of tea. In fact, it was our late intern, Lindsay Butler, who clued us in to what the mature male tarantula was actually looking for.
Instead of the headline that appeared with the story "Rain brings out not-so itsy-bitsy spiders," Lindsay suggested we go with "Male tarantulas looking for tail." We chose not to, but were very impressed by the kinds of knowledge young people are picking up in college these days because we didn't even realize mature female tarantulas had tails.
But we're missing the whole point of the story here, because what Richard actually wanted us to know is that people right here in the Rim country -- your neighbors and maybe even your mother -- are intentionally running over tarantulas that are crossing the road. This has to stop.
Not only because it's messy and makes our streets slippery, but also because tarantulas, despite their appearance to the contrary, are really quite harmless -- even helpful.
That's not to say you will find a mature male tarantula helping a senior female tarantula cross the street. But what you will find, if you allow them to hang in your yard, is a decrease in the number of cockroaches, crickets, scorpions, mice, and county planning and zoning inspectors.
This handy information comes to you courtesy of local wildlife biologist Mary Gilbert and the American Tarantula Society (ATS), whose website (http://atshq.org/) contains information that blows away just about every spider myth we humans have concocted to justify their wanton slaughter.
Some time ago, I wrote a column about the wolf spiders who happily share my house. The overwhelming response I got from readers was, "Not in my house."
While some claimed to humanely take spiders they find inside their homes outside, most admitted they simply smash them dead. Both solutions are simply wrong, according to the ATS.
Go to their website and click on "Spider Myths." Under "House Spider Myths," you will find revelations that will change your life forever. Allow me to provide enough highlights to entice you.
- On putting spiders "back outside" instead of killing them:
"You can't put something ‘back' outside which was never outside in the first place," Rod Crawford of the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture writes. House spiders belong to a small number of species specially adapted for indoor conditions. Although some can survive outdoors, most can't and will die rather quickly. "In any case, house spiders are mostly harmless and beneficial," Crawford concludes.
- On the "danger" spiders pose to children and pets:
Like so many other myths about spiders, this one is a crock. "House spiders prey on insects and other small creatures," Crawford writes. "Very few spider species have venom that can harm humans, dogs or cats, and house spiders are absolutely harmless."
- Crawford's advice when you find a spider in the house:
"Human property rights mean nothing to other species. Just wave as they go by."
The only question you won't find answered on the ATS website is one posed by Jay back in production. He put it something like this:
"If this is all about mature male tarantulas searching for mature females, are the ones that shave their eight legs more likely to get the guy?"