Friday, October 26, 2007

The Great Tarantula Rescue

There's some creepy crawly stuff going on at the Museum these days! UMNH insect scientist (or entomologist) Christy Bills delivers this report from the field:

"Knowing there are tarantulas on the site where the new Utah Museum of Natural History facility will be built [starting next year], I thought it would be exciting and important to try to locate and rescue those tarantulas that would otherwise be displaced.

Using a local independent researcher, Zach Valois, I learned how to identify and lure tarantulas out of burrows. There are many burrows at that site because it's often a very hot, dry place so rodents, snakes and invertebrates hide underground to stay cool and keep from drying out.

It's interesting to try to identify what might be living in different burrows. This is especially challenging because some creatures will utilize burrows that were made and abandoned by other animals. However, some burrows are characteristic of the animal that lives in it. Tarantula burrow openings are usually the diameter of a silver-dollar and are tidy and lined with silk.

There are many black widows at the site and their burrows are strewn with a messy and coarse webbing. Black widows are also untidy housekeepers and their burrows are usually littered with insect bits.

In the course of looking for tarantulas, I discovered that the invertebrate night life on that particular hill is ever-changing and always exciting. When I encounter large invertebrates, I often take them home to keep alive. I've found 7 Jerusalem crickets and dozens and dozens of wolf spiders. I've only brought a couple of those home though! Their bites are fairly venomous.

I've only located three tarantulas on the site: 2 roaming males and one female in a burrow. The female has mated with at least one of the males. I missed whether she mated with the second because while I was distracted, she ate him. No telling if mating occured beforehand! I'm looking forward to the spiderlings in the spring!

The female wolf spiders that I have have also been mated and their egg sacs could be formed any day now. The interesting thing about that is that the mother spider will carry the babies on her back for awhile.

The Jerusalem crickets are doing well on a diet of dog food and oatmeal. When I learn to differentiate the genders, I will attempt mating a pair. They are such peculair insects that I'm excited to show them to people. Most people have never seen them even though they are fairly common, probably because they are solitary, nocturnal and they like to live underground.

I'm hoping to keep many invertebrates from the site alive so they can be displayed in the upcoming insect zoo the Museum will be opening next summer! Hooray for bugs from Utah!"

What creepy crawlers have you seen in Utah?


Mike K said...

Hey, how did things go. Are your collected invertebrates still around?

Natural History Now! said...

Great question, Mike! Thanks for asking. Christy says: "Yes! We're excited to still have a healthy female tarantula (Aphonopelma iodius) and since she's mated, we're hoping to have spiderlings come Spring. The two female wolf spiders that we collected are both healthy, feeding well and obviously also soon to make egg sacs. We'll keep some for display and release some near their habitat. As expected, the male arachnids didn't survive the winter. Usually male spiders don't live long after reaching sexual maturity.
None of the Jerusalem crickets lived long though. They were all large so maybe they had all reached maturity. I'm hoping to find more this summer and learn more about their habits. If anyone collects a live one, (although not from a state or national park which isn't permitted) I'd love to take over its care!"