Lurking in the woods, deep in the Boston Mountains—and possibly in your own backyard—are some of North America’s largest and most iconic spiders: tarantulas! Aphonopelma hentzi, the chocolate brown tarantula, is presumed to be Arkansas’ only tarantula species, crawling across much of the state minus the Mississippi Delta area. If you are surprised, as I was, fear not and keep reading!
Spiders, centipedes, scorpions, and other lesser-known crawlers can cause immediate panic for some and arouse fascination in others. Entomologist Austin Jones is among those who, instead of running for the nearest rolled-up newspaper, gets down to take a closer look at some of, as he puts it, “these misunderstood members of our community.” Jones is joining our final Discover the Grounds program, Creepy Crawlers, on October 8, 2016, bringing in some of his eight-legged friends to discuss just how important these creatures are in our environment. Here are a few bites of an interview with this real-life spider man:
Moira Anderson: Should I fear the chocolate brown tarantula?
Austin Jones: Absolutely not. In eight years of working closely with and handling these spiders, I am yet to even have a close call. Although I don’t suggest a novice head out and just grab one up off the ground, I can tell you that these critters hold no malice toward people and would much rather avoid them.
MA: Do they bite?
AJ: Yes. All spiders have the ability to inflict a venomous bite; they require venom to be injected into their prey to begin the first steps of the digestion process. However, it is my experience that the only way one of these spiders is going to bite is if they are put into a life-or-death situation. Remember that using its venom for defense is a secondary role for the spider. If it isn’t getting a meal out of the use of venom, it is less likely to inject it, since it will receive no nutrition in return. Venom is a costly thing to produce.
MA: What’s the one fun fact you’d like to highlight about the chocolate brown tarantula?
AJ: To me the most amazing thing about these spiders is their lifespan. Most insects and spiders live less than a year and although some species can live for several, it boggles my mind that a female A. hentzi can live for almost 30 years! It takes them 15 years before they even become mature enough to breed!
This Discover the Grounds program will happen the morning of October 8, 2016, underneath our giant spider sculpture, Maman, by artist Louise Bourgeois. Maman is an artwork that might also surprise you. For Bourgeois, the spider figure alludes to the strength of her mother, with connections to spinning, weaving, nurture, and protection.
Bourgeois said, “The Spider is an Ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitos. We know that mosquitos spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”
Join us for this Discover the Grounds finale, meet some of the eight-legged friends we have here in the Ozarks, and discover when being creepy can actually be a good thing!