SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Did you know there are tarantulas native to northwest Louisiana? Or that they don’t spin webs to trap their prey as you see in horror movies?
Imagine living the life of a solitary hunter, using a trip wire to catch your food, and being so misunderstood by people that they often scream and run away when they see you.
Such is the life of the native tarantula species of the region, Aphonopelma hentzi.
One of the dozens of species of Northern American tarantulas, Aphonopelma hentzi can be found throughout Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.
The dark brown and black tarantula is occasionally seen in Mississippi, too, but reportedly does not sing as well as Aphonopelma johnnycashi, an American tarantula species which was discovered recently in the foothills around Folsom State Prison in northern California and named after the country singer Johnny Cash.
The native tarantulas of Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas are good-natured and non-venomous to humans because they are considered “new world” tarantulas. Their bites only seriously harm humans in cases of allergic reactions.
NWLA tarantula facts
Native NWLA tarantula females can lay up to 1,000 eggs in a web they shape like a hammock, but they don’t spin webs otherwise. And females live up to 40 years, while males live around 10—perhaps because females eat the males after mating.
Aphonopelma hentzi have tiny claws on the ends of their legs that allow them to climb and cling to walls and ceilings, but they prefer to be underground. They will create doors with their spider silk and use the substance to line portions of their burrows to hide from predators.
Our native tarantula hunts at night, feeling for the vibrations of prey through clawed feet and body hair, always ready to pounce once the motion of prey is detected. Once Aphonopelma hentzi grabs its prey with strong front legs, it bites to inject venom and paralyze the tasty treat before using fangs to kill the prey and inject digestive enzymes that will turn dinner into a soupy liquid.
You should, however, be terrified of our native tarantula if you are a grasshopper, a cicada, a beetle or a caterpillar, a sow bug or a small bird, a lizard or a toad, a frog or small rodent, a bat or a small snake.
Aphonopelma hentzi does not hunt humans, so there is no need to fear our native tarantula.
What are our native tarantulas afraid of?
Aphonopelma hentzi’s biggest fear isn’t running into an occasional human that will chase after it with a broom. The native tarantula’s arch nemesis is the tarantula hawk, a wasp that will swoop down from the sky to paralyze Aphonopelma hentzi with its sting, drag the tarantula to its wasp nest as a living food, and lay an egg on the spider that will eventually hatch while the tarantula lays motionless as it is eaten alive by tarantula hawk larvae.
Visit native tarantulas at the Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park
The park has been in Shreveport for 46 years and is a part of Caddo Parish Parks and Recreation. WBJMNP has hiking trails, live animals, a small exhibit hall, a puppet theatre, puzzles, games, a room with Louisiana’s native snakes, and the ever-lovely Aphonopelma hentzi.
“We have almost five miles of hiking trails, and we have a bird of prey aviary outside with eagle and falcon and owls, and we have a white-tailed deer on display. And you have a self-guided nature exploration with free downloadable educational mobile games for families, right that you can download, and it has missions for you to go on,” Rusty Scarborough, Park Manager for WBJMNP said. They call that augmented reality and location-based challenges, and it gets people active outdoors and well, the challenge these days is to get people active and away from their digital devices, but we’re trying To use their digital devices to get them active.”
Walter B. Jacobs hosts school groups, special events, and public programs.
Plans to update the nature park are underway, too.
“We’re gonna tear down our existing structure and rebuild a $9 million 13,000 square foot museum,” said Scarborough.
On the November 8th ballot, there will be a debt service millage, bond proposition six, which is a renewal of an existing millage.