Most of the main roads into the hills to our west will do: Patterson Pass Road, Corral Hollow Road or any similar road that heads west from the valley.
Drive slowly along the road at dusk and keep a sharp eye out for the hairy spiders as they migrate in search of mates. It’s not only educational but great fun for kids of all ages.
As far as I know, tarantulas are not protected under California law, but check with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to be sure.
If you have a terrarium at home, tarantulas make great pets. If you want to keep a pet tarantula, it’s best to buy one from a pet dealer. You can stop by the local pet store or bait shop and buy live crickets to feed your pet tarantula. Of course, you’ll want to have a nice, well-made screen cover over the top of your terrarium, so that your pet tarantula doesn’t end up visiting you in bed some night.
Actually, tarantulas are only one of the many critters that you can keep in a home terrarium. I had a terrarium in my bedroom from the time I was about 12 years old until I moved off to college. It was a great way to learn about many of the amazing critters the Good Lord put on this Earth. I had an assortment of reptiles, from horned toads to snakes and lizards, and even an occasional scorpion.
The horned toads (technically Horned Lizards) who called our terrarium home were great pets and subsisted on a diet of ants. The kids (and our cats) learned that one of the defense mechanisms of horned toads was that they really could squirt blood out of their eye! This almost always caused the kid (or cat) to drop the horned toad who’d scurry away to safety. We also learned about camouflage from our resident horned toads. Almost every time you looked into the terrarium, it appeared as though the wily critter had vanished, after sifting your fingers through the sand however, eventually you’d find the horned toad that blended in so well he became invisible. Those were great lessons that I don’t think the kids will ever forget.
When I became a father and my kids were old enough, we got a terrarium set up so that they could learn to observe and appreciate some of nature’s creations firsthand, just as I had.
Almost all of our terrarium guests were just that — short-term visitors who would reside with us for a few weeks or months so that we could learn more about them and their habits. Eventually, the horned toads, lizards, snakes and turtles got returned to the wild places from which they came.
We learned a healthy respect for wild creatures. While king snakes are not venomous and cannot kill you, they still have sharp teeth and can let you know in no uncertain terms that they don’t want to be handled. I remember when my son Bo reached down to pick up a 3-foot king snake and the snake gave him a hard bite on the finger that drew blood.
After cleaning the bite and soothing the wounded youngster, we proceeded to return the snake to the exact spot we’d caught him. We had a good discussion about wild things needing to be wild and free.
If you ever want to introduce yourself or your kids to the wonders of nature, in a manner that is truly up close and personal, then a tarantula-spotting expedition is a great way to start.
You might even want to invest in your very own home terrarium. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn. You’re never too old to stop learning.
Until next week, tight lines.
• Don Moyer is an author and outdoors columnist for the Tracy Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.