A quick tap on the brakes and a barely noticeable swerve to the left did just enough to avoid a mild disaster.

A quick tap on the brakes and a barely noticeable swerve to the left did just enough to avoid a mild disaster.

"Lookin' for girls," said Jay Tutchton, observing a tarantula making its way blindly across a dusty dirt road on Land Trust's Heartland Ranch just south of Las Animas. Tutchton is the manager of the Southern Plains Land Trust Preserve.

“It’s kinda like going out to the bars or something. He’ll probably just wander around for a while and might get lucky,” said Tutchton.

Referred to as a tarantula migration, male tarantulas, distinguished from the female by a blonde spot on the top of the prosoma, or cephalothorax, or simply, its back, will roam their terrain seeking a mate.

The males typically are the most active, searching for the scent of females who are waiting in burrows, experts say. The male blonde tarantulas spend about 10 years reaching sexual maturity. They will mate once and then die — often at the fangs of the female whose eggs they have fertilized.

"What a way to die," says Tutchton.

"Tarantulas are in the prime of their mating season," said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Manager Rick Gardner in Lamar. "It’s not like a migration of geese," he continued. "They aren’t going too far to find a female. It’s simply a mating thing."

The Arkansas Valley, in fact, is a prime location for those willing to brave the migration. This weekend is expected to be the most active of the tarantula mating season. Ideal locations for viewing the migration include Highway 109 between La Junta and Kim and Highway 71 north of Ordway.

Tarantulas give some people the creeps because of their large, hairy bodies and legs. But these spiders are harmless to humans (except for a painful bite), and their mild venom is weaker than a typical bee's. Among arachnid enthusiasts, these spiders have become popular pets.

While the tarantula may be mostly harmless, what lurks near such a fluctuation in roaming, however, can be far more painful.

"Tarantula hawk wasps are large – sometimes scary large – and blue-black in color with bright orange or reddish wings," explained Cheyenne Mountain State Park Senior Ranger Darcy Mount. "As adults, they eat nectar and pollen and may be seen in groups of a dozen or more on milkweeds and other flowering shrubs."

"After mating," she said, "the female tarantula wasp goes looking for a tarantula spider. If she finds one of the big, hairy arachnids in its burrow, the wasp will lure the spider out by ‘drumming’ on its own silk webbing at the burrow entrance. When the tarantula comes out to investigate, the wasp ambushes the spider, attacking it with her ¼-inch-long stinger to inject venom into the spider."

"Or, if the wasp encounters a tarantula simply walking around during migration season, she will grab hold of the spider’s leg, flip it over and sting it. Kind of a kung-fu wasp move. Within seconds, the venom renders the spider paralyzed, but still very much alive."

The wasp then drags the spider to a hole, lays a single egg on the spider and buries it. In three to four days, the egg hatches and the larva begins to suck out all the fluids from the paralyzed, but still alive spider. Over the next 30 days the larva will eventually eat the flesh of the entire spider.

"I’m kind of amazed Stephen King hasn’t written a best-seller about this wasp," says Mount.

Female tarantula wasps lay an estimated dozen eggs in this fashion, which explains why spider mortality during wasp reproductive periods is very high.

"If that doesn’t scare you, consider tarantula wasps are abundant in southeast Colorado thanks to a reliable supply of food . . . and tarantulas. The wasp’s only known predator is the roadrunner, those fast-running ground birds common in U.S. deserts and not terribly common in Colorado," said Mount.

"Now if we only knew what provokes the wasps."

Residents are urged to use precaution when observing the tarantula migration, both with the arachnid, tarantula hawks and oncoming traffic.