SteppIR EZNEZ STUDY

TARANTULA MIGRATION DXPEDITIONS:  2004  2006

USS RONALD REAGAN

CQ DIABLO

IN MEMORIAM

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Nojoqui Tarantula Migration DxPeditions

 

The Annual Nojoqui Tarantula Migration Dxpedition:   Each year, thousands of tarantulas brave countless dangers as they  migrate to their ancestral breeding grounds somewhere in northern Santa Barbara county.  The journey, which is believed to span some 50 miles across treacherous terrain and several county highways, is one of the most unusual mass migrations.  Once thought to be only myth, the Nojoqui Tarantulas have recently been rediscovered and their great migration the source of scientific wonder and amazement.

Thought to be related to the Amazon tarantula, the Nojoqui tarantula's origins are unknown.  Stories past down from Nojoqui locals depict a series of strange and mysterious events related to the annual migration:

  • In 1864, the rotting remains of a herd of cattle that happened to wander into the migration path, were found nearly completely consumed.  Once thought to only consume leafy green vegetable matter, it is believed that the tarantulas went on a feeding frenzy prompted by an usually dry summer that depleted the local fauna.
  • In 1912, thousands of tarantulas were found crushed and buried in a landslide that occurred during the night of the migration.  A fierce thunderstorm caused one of the hillsides in the migration path to give way burying thousands of tarantulas under tons of debris.  There had been no reports of thunderstorms or landslides in the area either before that night or since.
  • In 1947, a local rancher installed an electric fence along his property.  The fence happened to be in the migration path that year.  The tarantulas attempted to cross over the fence by building a bridge with their bodies.  The increased load on the electrical system ignited fires along the fence and the local electrical substation, plunging the entire central coast of California into a blackout and igniting one of the largest brush fires in Santa Barbara history.

This year, we have good information on when and where the migration will occur.  Local Nojoqui's who claim to know, have told us that this year's migration might be the largest in numbers of the past 50 years.  Over the past several years, migrations have been dwindling, prompting some scientists to speculate that the Nojoqui tarantulas might be perilously close to extinction.  Locals have told us that building development near the breeding grounds may be responsible for the recent decline.

 

However, upon further examination, I have found that the sightings of mass numbers of migrating tarantulas closely follows the sunspot cycle.  Most amateurs will quickly recognize the graphic on the left.  The red dots indicate the relative size of recent tarantula migratory numbers superimposed on the sunspot cycle as reported by NOAA in Boulder Colorado.

Clearly, with only limited empirical data, further study must be undertaken to determine if there is a link between the xray solar flux and the migration patterns of the Nojoqui tarantulas.  But the graphic seems to imply that the locals might be wrong in their assessment of current tarantula numbers.  If the data is correct, this year's migration should be approaching the low numbers of 1997 and not the massive event that has been talked about in recent weeks around Nojoqui.

We have not yet obtained the necessary permitting.  We do not want to attract hundreds of observers for fear of putting unsuspecting tourists in harm's way.  We certainly do not want a headline in the local papers linking our hobby to a series of unfortunate incidents during the migration.  So, we just might go in under the radar and set up just after any initial sightings of the migration are reported.  

 

PRIOR SCIENCE

 

 

 

 

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you.  Yes, that's a radio antenna attached to this male tarantula.  Actually, it's a favorite among tarantulas:  Aphonopelma Hentzi (ARANEAE, THERAPHOSIDAE), a male brown tarantula.  In 1999 a study was conducted to gain insight into the migratory life history component of the male brown tarantula, Aphonopelma hentzi (shown above), and to determine if radio telemetry could successfully answer questions regarding the ecology of theraphosids. Tarantulas were equipped with radio transmitters and their movement monitored using an antenna and radio receiver. Overall movement of males was in all directions and randomness could not be excluded as a factor. Individual males moved relatively large distances, up to 1300m, and significant directedness was only found in three individuals.  

 

Later it was discovered that these three unique theraphosids were actually once the personal property of Phoenix resident Johnny Saulisco.  Young Mr. Saulisco apparently grew tired of his three pets and released them back into the wild approximately a year before the study.  Apparently, Johnny used the three in a science fair project entitled "Do Tarantulas Have A Trial and Error System?"  He had devised a series of mazes the tarantulas needed to navigate in order to get to the female tarantula.  There were six choices in the form of paths leading to six chambers wherein the female lay.  However, Johnny only put two females and four other males in the six rooms.  He repeatedly tested his pets.  Frustrated that they didn't seem to figure it out, he concluded the answer was "no" and later released them back into the wild.

 

Apparently, the limited exposure to a learned environmental response in captivity was enough to differentiate the behavior between domesticated and wild tarantulas in a blind test.  

Fearing the contamination of the local tarantula gene pool by human forces, the Phoenix County Board of Supervisors adopted a "no release of captive theraphosids" or any other 'desert pets' back into the wild policy.  "We've seen what can happen when human planted grasses invade the hillsides.  We're not going to let that happen to our tarantulas and other desert local populations."

It appeared that this policy was successful in averting an ecological disaster, based on the levels of tramatic compaction syndrome seen on the local roads and highways in and around Phoenix.

 

 

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recent tarantula sightings:   1936