Tarantulas on the Move on Comanche National Grassland

The sun sets as a male tarantula successfully crosses U.S. 350 outside La Junta this month in search of a female mate. Now through the early part of October is a good time to spot tarantulas in Comanche National Grassland near La Junta. They’re most active in the hour before sunset. Gazette photo.


While people are off leaf-peeping across our National Forests, we can also acknowledge that the often less heard-from National Grasslands have their own tourism attractions. This one (Seth Boster story in the Colorado Springs Gazette) seems fairly unusual…

If you’ve seen headlines about “thousands of tarantulas” or “waves of tarantulas” marching across southeast Colorado every fall — CNN and USA Today have covered the annual phenomenon in recent years — you might have the wrong idea. On the contrary, you might see one or two or three at a time crawl across this prairie. Or, you might see none.

I’m beginning to think that is our fate. Other drivers from afar seem to be thinking the same thing.

“Seen any spiders?” one asks from Denver.

“You guys looking for tarantulas?” asks another from Colorado Springs.

She’s driving one of two SUVS in a caravan of searchers. I envy those extra eyes. Mine are sore, along with my craned neck, from forever scanning the road in vain.

Clumps of dirt, spots of tar, a glove, a shoe, a dead squirrel, smashed cacti and grasshoppers of biblical proportions all deceive. I eventually learn to ignore those lubbers for how they glimmer in the sun. The furry arachnids of interest do no such thing.

On and on and on through the fields, and I am wondering about this interest, why I am so eager to find these creepy crawlers. And why is everyone else? Drivers form the true waves here.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook,” says Pam Denahy, La Junta’s tourism director. “End of August to early October, it’s consistent.”

If you’re asking, Denahy’s answer is yes, now is your best chance to spot the tarantulas. You’ve probably heard of this fall “migration.” The common description again gives the wrong idea.

The tarantulas are not exactly coming and going. They live around here. They’ve always lived around here, since and likely long before the Dust Bowl banished farmers and led to the 1960 establishment of the national grassland — prairie to be left undisturbed.

“You generally won’t find (tarantulas) where people have plowed,” says Whitney Cranshaw, who spent 37 years teaching entomology at Colorado State University and has annually ventured here to witness the eight-legged phenomenon. “They have permanent burrows, and they live for a long time. So it has to be an area that hasn’t been destroyed. It has to be relatively intact, native prairie.”

The tarantulas roam across Comanche’s 443,000-plus acres not so much migrating, but rather looking for love.

If you’re curious, follow the link (I hope it works!, let me know if not) and read on.

Leave a Comment