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Tarantulas Take Hooking Up To The Next Level | Deep Look Video

June 15, 2020

Every fall, male tarantulas leave home for good with one thing on their minds: sex. But before these spiders can make the ultimate connection, they have to survive the perils of the open road…which include their potential mates.

Every September, a generation of newly mature male tarantulas leave their underground homes to wander the landscape south of La Junta, Colorado, to look for mates. The lucky males will find females, who remain near their dens the whole lives, and possibly mate. But this so-called “migration” is a one‐way trip.

Among the many risks for these itinerant tarantulas, besides running out of time and becoming roadkill, are the local tarantula hawks. The two‐inch long, blue‐and‐gold wasps pounce on the unsuspecting arachnid travelers, hit them with a paralyzing sting, then drag them off to their lairs. Once there, the female wasp lays an egg on the spider that eventually hatches into a larva. The larva burrows inside him to feast and grow before emerging from his body, Alien‐like, as an adult.

If a male does survive long enough to find a den, he courts the female by first “knocking” at the entrance by tapping the ground with his front mouth parts, called pedipalps. He must rely on vibration to communicate his intentions, since tarantulas are mostly blind. If the larger and more dangerous female comes out to investigate, they face off at the den entrance. She may reply with drumming of her own to indicate that she’s receptive ‐‐ or she might try to eat him.

But he’s come prepared. When male tarantulas reach maturity, right before they set out on their quest, they develop a special set of clasps on their front legs called “tibial hooks.” Tibial hooks serve a single purpose: to fasten underneath the female’s fangs during courtship, allowing him to keep danger at arm’s length, so to speak.

This is another installment of the PBS Deep Look series. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.   [Chuck Almdale]

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