Tarantulas On Parade

A version of this story appeared in David Toll’s legendary Gold Hill News, which he published regularly between 1974 – 1978.  This story is in the anthology – David Toll’s Nevada, a 50- Year Tour Through the Most Interesting State in America. 


As summer wanes into autumn, one of the loveliest signs of the changing season on the Lode is the annual tarantula migration. Every year at this time thousands of the furry brown spiders may be observed picking their way across the landscape, and to local residents, the sight of the season’s first tarantula is an occasion for rejoicing.

Tarantula – image: provided by David Toll

That’s the news.  One of the flapjack-sized travelers had been seen to cross the highway from northwest to southeast in the vicinity of the Dayton Consolidated mine and was greeted with glad cries by a group of naturalists gathered at the Golden Gate Bar recently.

When the glee had subsided, one of the group delivered a brief address on the subject, concluding that the eight-legger moved with the season from high country to low country, like deer. Since this was the accepted version of the matter, it was naturally greeted with approval.

But then another scientist took the floor and advanced the novel proposal that there was no migration at all, but that this was mating season for the big nippers.

“You take a close look at those spiders,” he said, “and you will see that they are all males.”

The listening scholars reeled with surprise, and a silence fell over the lyceum. “And the females all live on the other side of the road?” one of them ventured at last, struggling to grasp this new idea.

“No,” the sage replied, “but if you follow one of them long enough, he will eventually lead you to a female.”

This silence deepened as inquiring minds grappled with the problem.

Outside meanwhile, the tarantulas continued their slow determined progress across the Nevada landscape. Through eight blind eyes they only dimly perceive the sun. They iift their hairy legs in time to an otherworldly rhythm, and creep along in slow dance time. At the unexpected, maddening touch of an unwary insect, a reflex leap. They never even see the whizzing rubber radial that squashes them flat on the pavement.

A report was given of a colleague who had once kept a trio of the furry brown spiders in a jar at the grocery store he tended in Skyhigh City.

He grew quite fond of his prisoners and used to talk to them sometimes when business was slow and he was alone in the store nipping at the Jack Daniels on a cold winter’s afternoon. But one day he accidentally brushed their jar to the floor and it smashed.

The spiders seized the opportunity and scurried for the shadows, easily evading his tipsy search.

Two of those burly brown arachnids never did turn up, but one did.

A lady found it on top of the box of cornflakes she was tucking under her arm, and they heard her screams all the way to the county seat.

David Toll transport

David Toll is a prize-winning writer and small-time publisher whose latest book is David Toll’s Nevada: A 50-year tour of the most interesting state in America (2021). The book is an anthology of David’s writing about the Silver State over the last 50 years, featuring tales that appeared in Nevada Magazine, online publications, and newspapers including the Gold Hill News and David’s classic, The Complete Nevada Traveler. The anthology is available online at the Nevada Bookstore. Toll also publishes regularly: The NevadaGram, which contains his stirring trip reports, and Nevada history.

Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant 501c3 nonprofit publication, a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, that offers unique, differentiated reporting and explanatory journalism on the environment, conservation, and public policy, and gives voice to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, and performers. We rely on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.