Friday, September 23, 2011

Unfounded fear

Candy knelt down and extended her arm to the gravel road, placing her fingers just under the densely hairy forelegs of the Missouri tarantula. The elegant, downy spider slowly walked up her pale arm, and began spinning a web around her wrist. We went out that bright September afternoon to stop a tourist from stepping on the tarantula, which was to him a creature to be feared, not protected.

Each fall, in nice dry woodlands and glades in part of the Ozarks, Missouri tarantulas can sometimes (if you’re lucky) be seen traveling to their wintering sites. Little is known about their behavior, though many in the region have observed the tarantula’s habit of crossing roads to move closer to glades for the winter. Plenty of anecdotal evidence of their behavior has been recorded, but few if any scientific studies have been conducted on them in Missouri. A University of Missouri student is currently conducting research on this incredibly beautiful spider to help us all to understand the tarantula's life history.

Candy calmly explained to the tourist that tarantulas live in the area, and are common inhabitants of the region’s dolomite glades. The spider continued to spin a web around her forearm, wrapping it in fine silvery webbing. We waited for the tourist to drive off before walking across the road to send the tarantula on his way, a direct route to a nice glade. The dry rocky woodlands in the area are very open, hospitable to tarantulas, and regularly managed with fire. The spider slowly ambled down Candy’s arm and into the woods, having been saved from death by a hiking boot.

If you visit a Halloween decoration store, you may see an assortment of artificial wild animals for sale for use in haunted houses or spooky porches in preparation for trick-or-treaters. The list of animals includes crows with lifelike sleek feathers, enormous black widow spiders with wiry black tinsel legs, bats (some with visible fangs dripping in red paint), wolves (also with visible fangs in red paint), huge rats, generic owls, and snakes.

The fear of apex predators and wildlife associated with early human history myths and folklore continues in some parts of the world. Even in Missouri, some residents relate the image of blood-feeding bats to our insectivorous bat species. The fear of predators, despite the educational efforts of ecologists since the writings of Aldo Leopold, continues to be a part of the culture as evidenced by the September killing of a mountain lion by a Shannon Co. resident (and the state agency condoning the action). More frightening, however, than rats feeding on human flesh or being chased by a grizzly bear at Glacier is seeing a herd of cows on a prairie or deer in a high quality woodland. These voracious feeders of forbs utterly destroy landscapes by their feeding habits. Once biodiversity is lost by the continuous clipping of high quality forbs by one animal out of place on the natural landscape and the other out of context due to lack of predators--it's gone. That's much scarier than a great horned owl swooping in to feed on a feral cat. Eek!

1 comment:

Nickelplate said...

We found one of these in my parents' garage and kept it as a pet for a week or so. We fed it live crickets and grasshoppers and such. We let him off in the woods, hopefully to find a mate and a good place to overwinter.