Watch where you're stepping while hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains this month. There may be an extra pair of legs (or four) on the path.
It's the beginning of tarantula mating season, and the males are on the prowl.
According to the National Park Service, those big, furry arachnids that call the American Southwest home will be spending the better part of September and October weaving their webs of love just above ground, outside the female's burrow.
Because females typically stay inside, if a hiker comes across a tarantula on a footpath, it's probably a male on the lookout for a mate, experts say. Males have been known to search for up to four miles to find a female.
Though they have fangs and carry poison, tarantulas are not considered a serious threat to humans.
Regardless, park officials are urging hikers not to interrupt the spiders' ritual. They move slowly so hikers can take pictures, but humans shouldn't touch or otherwise harass the tarantulas, said Kate Kuykendall, a spokeswoman for the Santa Monica Mountains.
Time, especially for the males, is of the essence.
While female tarantulas can live for up to 25 years, the average lifespan of the male is only seven or eight years, so their annual chances to spread their genes is limited. As if that weren't bad enough, female tarantulas have been known to eat the males if they linger too long after copulation.
According to the park service, mating occurs when the male approaches the female's burrow and taps on the web strands outside the entrance. If the female is willing, she'll come outside and receive his sperm, which he deposits on a web that she then receives and uses to fertilize her eggs.
She'll then seal the eggs in a cocoon and guard them for six to nine weeks. Up to 1,000 tarantulas may hatch, according to National Geographic.
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