In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, according to Lord Alfred Tennyson.
For tarantulas, that actually happens in the fall. That's when the males of the species venture forth from their burrows in search of mates. Normally tarantulas only emerge at night to hunt for the small insects that make up their diet. But during the mating season in September and October, they can be seen wandering around in daytime.
The females don't emerge. They wait for gentleman callers in their silk-lined boudoirs, six to 10 inches underground. For the males, love can be a risky business. Very occasionally, the girls will make a meal of their partners after mating. Even if they don't, the boys die within a year. Female tarantulas can live up to 30 years.
Another hazard for tarantulas is the tarantula hawk, a variety of wasp that hunts the spider, paralyzes it with a sting, then lays eggs on the live but helpless arachnid to provide a meal for the wasp larvae when they hatch.
The East Bay is tarantula country. Drier inland regional parks such as Morgan Territory, Round Valley, Black Diamond Mines and Sunol are all good tarantula habitat, as is Mount Diablo State Park.
If you do see a tarantula while out on the trail, don't pick it up. Tarantulas are docile animals, but they can bite. The bite is not lethal to humans, but it is painful, about like a bee sting. The spiders also have barbed, irritating hairs on their abdomens as a defense against predators. Besides, picking up the spider can harm it. In honor of the spiders' mating season, tarantula programs are scheduled at several regional parks.
MEET A TARANTULA: "Tantalizing Tarantulas" is the theme of a free program from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday in the Environmental Education Center at Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, hosted by interpretive student aide Morgan Rani Evans. The center has a tarantula in residence and Morgan will talk about where to see the big guys in the wild. The center is at the north end of Tilden's Central Park Drive. For information, call 510-544-2233.
MORE TARANTULAS: At Black Diamond Mines in Antioch, there's a trek in search of tarantulas from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, led by naturalist Eddie Willis. The program is free, designed for ages 6 and older. Meet Eddie at the parking lot at the uppermost end of Somersville Road, 4 miles south of Highway 4 in Antioch. Black Diamond Mines has a parking fee of $5 per vehicle when the kiosk is attended. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 2750.
livermore tarantulas: On Oct. 5, there's a tarantula program from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rocky Ridge Visitor Center in Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore. Naturalist Cat Taylor will preside, along with her tarantula friend, "Hairy." The program includes a short hike in search of tarantula burrows. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3249.
BIRD TIME: If spiders creep you out, no worries, you're more likely to see birds on an early nature walk from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday at Martinez Regional Shoreline, led by naturalist Anthony Fisher. This one is easy and flat, with lots of shorebirds in the marshlands. Meet at the end of Berrellesa Street in Martinez.
Ned MacKay writes a regular column about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.