With the advent of autumn comes an annual spectacle in the regional parks and elsewhere -- the march of the mating tarantulas.

You may spot the large, hairy spiders making slow progress across parkland roads and trails. Those are likely the males. The females wait in their silk-lined boudoirs for the gentleman callers.

Tarantulas are interesting spiders. Despite their intimidating appearance, they are actually docile and reclusive. They live underground in daytime, usually emerging only at night to hunt for the small insects that comprise their diet.

Males mature between ages 7 and 10 years. Then, during September and October, they venture forth in search of females that are ready to lay eggs. Tarantula sexuality can be especially unsafe, because the girl sometimes dines on her partner afterward. Even if she doesn't, males die within a year of mating. Females can live as long as 30 years.

Neither sex lives happily ever after if there's an encounter with a tarantula hawk. This is a variety of wasp that hunts the spider, delivers a paralyzing sting, then lays eggs on the live but helpless victim to provide a meal for the wasp larvae when the eggs hatch.


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If you see a tarantula while you're walking in the parks, spider-watch to your heart's content, but please don't disturb the creature in any way. One disincentive to handling tarantulas is their defense mechanism -- irritant hairs on their abdomens that they can scatter with their legs to discourage predators. Tarantulas also have fangs, and while their bite is not poisonous, it is painful -- like a bee sting.

If you'd like to learn more about tarantulas and meet one under safe circumstances, naturalist aide Morgan Evans is hosting a program from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Environmental Education Center in Tilden Nature Area, Berkeley. The center is at the north end of Central Park Drive. For more information, call 510-544-2233.

LEONA HEIGHTS: The oldest redwood tree in the East Bay is located in the Oakland Hills. It's hard to hike to, but you can see it from a distance during a walk from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday starting in Leona Canyon and continuing to Oakland's Leona Heights Park, led by naturalist Michael Charnofsky.

The free hike is a five-miler, designed for ages 8 and older. Meet at the Canyon Oaks Drive staging area off Keller Avenue in Oakland. For more information, call 510-544-3187.

BLACK DIAMOND: Traces of the once-bustling 19th century mining town of Somersville will be explored during a walk from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, led by naturalist Bob Kanagaki.

The program is free, geared for ages seven and older. Meet Bob in the parking lot at the end of Somersville Road, four miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.

GRANT DENIED: In a previous column I mentioned that the East Bay Regional Park District, in partnership with other agencies and organizations, had applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set up a Get Outdoors (GO!) Network for Kids Health.

Unfortunately, the district has learned that the grant application was not approved. The process was very competitive; out of 40 grants nationwide, only four were awarded in California.

Park district staff has received a lot of positive comments about the proposed GO! program, which is aimed at encouraging kids to improve their health and fitness through outdoor activity. So district staff will continue to seek other funding support for it. Partners in the effort are the Oakland Unified Schools, West Contra Costa Unified School District, Alameda County Office of Education, Children's Hospital Oakland, EcoVillage and UC Berkeley Center for Weight and Health.

Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District activities. Email him at nedmackay@comcast.net.