Tarantulas are another arachnid available in infinite supply in the Sonora desert. Although they look frightening, they are much less dangerous than scorpions, bees, or pack rats. Their intimidating appearance leads the uninitiated to suppose that they are poisonous or vicious, but they are neither. They make decent pets, if you're the kind of person that likes to catch bugs every night in a plastic cup, and you have the knack for calming frightened visitors down.

Tarantulas are very large, black, hairy spiders. Very large. Several times larger than any other spider in North America, I'm pretty sure. I have seen tarantulas that were a nice 6" across. They eat other bugs. Due to their mating cycles, you are likely to find large numbers of male tarantulas crawling around outside during the early months of summer. They are either looking for prospective mates or have already mated and are just waiting to die. If you feel particularly compassionate, you can do the spider a great service by catching him and putting him in a terrarium. Don't put more than one tarantula in the same terrarium.

To handle tarantulas, you need to be aware of a couple of things. Don't make any sudden moves, ever. This will scare the tarantula and it may bite. If the spider seems agitated, put it down immediately, or you may be bitten. The bite is extremely painful, as the fangs of the tarantula are in proportion with the rest of it, but carries little venom. Emergency medical treatment is not necessary. Almost worse, however, is the tarantula's other defense. Tarantulas have a patch of special hairs, called urticating hairs, that act like fine cactus spines at the spider's will. They itch unbearably and are difficult to remove. Some people may experience an allergic reaction to these, so consider wearing a glove until you are experienced at handling tarantulas.

Feed a captive tarantula crickets, moths, beetles, whatever you can find. Provide some water just in case, although I have never seen one drink. Don't kill tarantulas; it's is not only difficult, but also unnecessary. If one is in your house and you are too scared to capture it, sweep it into a dustpan with a broom, dump it in a box or garbage can, and put it back outside. They never invade homes except by mistake -- if humans were killed for their mistakes, we'd start having big problems maintaining our cities.