Tarantulas are among the Bandelier National Monument creatures discussed by Meghan Connelly at a Zoom presentation Tuesday for local Rotarians. Photo Courtesy NPS
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
To set the mood for Halloween, Bandelier intern Meghan Connelly spoke about some of the national monument’s “creepy-crawlies” during the Zoom meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos on Tuesday, October 27.
Beginning with tarantulas, Connelly presented a number of fun facts that grabbed everyone’s attention. There are over 800 tarantula species worldwide. The smallest, about the size of a BB pellet, is the Spruce-Fir Moss spider, which lives in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Goliath Bird-Eating tarantula, the largest, is found in South America and grows to a length of five inches. Four tarantula species live in New Mexico.
The two species found in Bandelier are the Texas Brown tarantula, a light-brown spider, usually found in open fields, and the Grand Canyon Black tarantula which has orangish hairs on its abdomen. Both species live in burrows, leaving them only in search of food or mates. Males, with a lifespan of roughly seven years, are significantly outlived by females, who can live 30 years. The males, who travel long distances in search of a mate, are vulnerable to being hit by cars, run over by bikes, or crushed on hiking trails. Also, they are often frequently eaten by the female with whom they have mated. After building a web across the female’s burrow, the male deposits his sperm in the web and entices the female by strumming on the web. Between 500-1000 “cute baby tarantulas,” as Connelly described them, will hatch within six to nine weeks. Many will be quickly eaten by lizards, snakes, and birds.
Although tarantulas weave silky webs, they are not used to capture prey. Instead the silky threads are used to line the burrows, are incorporated into nesting material for the eggs, and as an alert of intruders’ movements when spread across the burrow opening. To capture prey, which includes insects, toads, frogs, mice, lizards, and birds, tarantulas grab the victim and then inject it with a fluid that liquefies its internal organs. Tarantulas can go for extended periods of time without eating if their prey is sizeable.
The greatest tarantula predator is the tarantula hawk, a wasp species. In this species, only the female hunts, stinging and paralyzing the tarantula and then laying her eggs inside the spider’s abdomen for the hatchlings to feed upon. If the sting does not puncture the tarantula’s organs, the spider will not die immediately.
And, who preys on the tarantula hawk wasp? Roadrunners.
During the discussion of other spiders and insects at Bandelier, the program took a turn to another Halloween favorite: bats. There are 45 species in North America; 13 are endangered. Bats vary greatly in size. The smallest, the Kitti’s Hog-Nosed bat of Southeast Asia, is about the size of a bumblebee. The largest, the Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox is found in South America. Its wingspan can reach six feet.
Worldwide, the number of insects, which comprise bats’ diets, has been greatly reduced by the use of pesticide. Bats target insects by using echo-location; they will eat their own body weight in insects each night.
Not only are bats a critical part of our ecology because of the numbers of insects they eat, but also because they are important pollinators, especially of mango, banana, guava, and agave. Bats can live up to 20 years in the wild and are considered “the only mammal capable of true flight.”
Connelly’s presentation was accompanied by slides prepared in part by Bandelier’s National Park Service biologist, Sarah Milligan, and by stunning photos of Bandelier wildlife taken by National Park Service photographer Sally King.
Connelly grew up in New York before attending the University of New Hampshire where she received her B.S. in Zoology with a minor in Animal Behavior. Her search interests include wildlife conservation and behavioral ecology topics such as social interaction and factors impacting reproductive success. Her background ranges from zoos to ecological research, focusing on a diverse set of species including horseshoe crabs, ospreys, ocelots, and most recently, invasive reptiles, in particular Burmese pythons, in Everglades National Park. She is currently an intern at Bandelier National Monument where she conducts a variety of surveys for threatened and endangered species, primarily Mexican Spotted owls. Connelly also tracks and monitors beavers and assists in any other projects that arise in the Natural Resource Management Department.