COARSEGOLD–For Diane Boland, founder and organizer of the 24th Annual Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival, the event is a reparation of sorts. The hairy crawlers come out in droves to Coarsegold Historic Village—helped by their human friends—on Saturday, October 30 between 10:30 am to 5 pm.
Diane moved to Coarsegold around 1979. Finding a tarantula in her driveway, she backed her car up to aim to smash the fellow. She subsequently learned from a neighbor that the spiders can actually be beneficial, and she began to celebrate them. That celebration has turned into one of the most popular events of our area, always taking place on the last Saturday of October.
According to Wikipedia, “Tarantula sizes can range from as small as the size of a BB pellet to as large as a dinner plate when the legs are fully extended. . . Some of the largest species of tarantula may weigh over 85 g (3 oz); the largest of all, the goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi) from Venezuela and Brazil, has been reported to attain a weight of 170 g (6.0 oz) and a leg-span up to 30 cm (12 in), males being longer and females greater in girth. They hunt at night and feed primarily on insects like grasshoppers, beetles, other small spiders and arthropods, and will sometimes eat small lizards.
Further, Wikipedia states that most species of North American tarantulas are brown. Elsewhere, species have been found that variously display cobalt blue (Cyriopagopus lividus), black with white stripes (Aphonopelma seemanni), yellow leg markings (Eupalaestrus campestratus), metallic blue legs with vibrant orange abdomen and green prosoma (Chromatopelma cyaneopubescens). They can be found in natural habitats from savanna and grassland to desert, scrubland, mountains. They are generally terrestrial and live in burrows underground.
That’s a lot of scientific information.
Newcomers to our area are often surprised to see them traversing the asphalt roads in fall, tempted to offer them the same fate Diane felt her first tarantula deserved. Oldtimers celebrate them, knowing that their appearance often predicts the start of the rainy season, sometimes within two to three weeks of the sighting. It isn’t that the tarantulas seek rain. They’re actually looking for love, and their sense of moisture signals it’s time to leave the burrow in search of a mate.
Local businesses have come together to offer support to the critters at the Tarantula Awareness Festival, including Yosemite Bank (now Premier Valley Bank), who has sponsored the festival every year since its inception. Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino supplies gifts and sponsorship. Round Table Pizza provides the goods for the pizza-eating contest. Between fifteen to thirty other vendors join the festivities, as well. Activities include a hairy-leg contest for both men and women, as tarantula poems and readings, a pet costume contest, a pumpkin dance with music by Phil Miller, and much more.
With an attendance of around 1,500 brave souls, between ten to thirty tarantulas have the opportunity to meet and greet kids of all ages. There are always some to hold and admire up close while their handlers learn about the little guys.
Diane says one of her big rewards is when someone comes up to her in the grocery store and tells her, “I saw a tarantula, and I didn’t kill it.” She says that’s so nice to hear.
Come out on Saturday, October 30 to get better acquainted with the hairy spiders. It may just change your opinion of them, too.