A few weeks ago a friend and I were driving down Kings Canyon Scenic Byway at Kings Canyon National Park in east-central California. Along the way he suddenly exclaimed something like “holy crap I just saw a crab run across the road!” I didn’t see it and was skeptical and laughing “A crab? In the Sierra Nevadas? Can’t be.” We then decided it must have been a scorpion, but after a few minutes we both saw more of these mystery creatures running across the road. They turned out to be tarantulas (Arachnida: Araneae: Theraphosidae).
After seeing another, my friend stopped the car and I hopped out with my camera and ran back to where it was. As I approached I saw it near the side of the road. Just as I was about to reach it and take a picture, a car came along and squashed it. I thought “CRAP!” but then almost immediately realized there was another one nearby. I quickly got these pictures before more cars showed up.
I tried to get my hand close to the spider to get a sense of scale, but it seemed to make him apprehensive:
These weren’t huge tarantulas, but they were easily the largest spiders I had ever seen in person. They were perhaps three or four inches long. According to one commenter on another blog post about tarantulas in the Sierras, it’s typically males that are found on roads. They apparently run around a lot in the late summer seeking out more sessile females in order to mate. The relatively large pedipalps and small abdomen do suggest the individual shown here was a male. That blogger claimed to have seen as many as fifty tarantulas along a ten mile stretch of road in an area about forty miles from our location. We saw at least a dozen in about the same distance. They definitely seem common the the western Sierra foothills in the summer.
Although it was cool to see tarantulas in the wild for the first time, they were just one of many cool things we found at Kings Canyon. I covered a more comprehensive tour of the park a few weeks ago.