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Meet Your Hairy-Legged Neighbors

Tarantula Season In The Foothills
COARSEGOLD – A little rain goes a long way towards coaxing hairy eight-legged creatures from their holes and onto trails in search of mates.

Fall precipitation in the foothills usually brings about the appearance of Aphonopelma Iodius, known to some locals as the Fresno brown tarantula.

Nowadays, arachnophobes need pay attention, as fist-sized fuzzy spiders are venturing out just in time for the 15th Annual Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival on Saturday, Oct. 27 from 10 a.m. to the end of a scheduled Tarantula Derby that begins at 3:55 p.m., and all activities are free!

Scott Bemis is a local, self-professed “advanced hobbyist” who has handled over 100 different species of tarantula, which in Coarsegold can range in color from brown to black or a combination of both.

While tarantula season here is sometimes referred to as a migration, that’s a misnomer, says Bemis, and the actual reason for their exploration is more romantic. This time of year the males are trolling for females.

“From as early as the first week of September to as late as November, tarantulas are roaming around trying to find a date,” Bemis explains.

Migration vs. mating is not the only common misconception surrounding the hairy little beasts.

“When it comes to handling tarantulas, people may be surprised to find out they are actually quite light and not as heavy as they appear to be,” Bemis says . “They have a light touch on the skin, and when they’re walking on you they are delicate.”

Bemis makes appearances to promote understanding of arachnids and one of the main reasons he participates in the festival is to foster education in the human population.

“We want to get the public more aware that they’re not trying to kill you,” says Bemis. “They’re beneficial to nature, they help control the insect, small rodent and small reptile population.”

While some species throw off dagger-like hairs defensively, California natives are not particularly aggressive or dangerous. Though often feared, they don’t see well and are fairly fragile.

“The hairs on their bodies are actually sensory organs that look like little harpoons under a microscope,” Bemis says. “They don’t respond to petting. Blowing on them is irritating and perceived as a threat, and they move on.”

Which is exactly how the Tarantula Derby is powered at the festival: participants blow on the spiders and the spiders move, at least theoretically. After 10 years as the resident expert, Bemis’ presence at the Tarantula Festival is usually met with enthusiasm and sometimes even used therapeutically.

“There are lots of people who are intentionally trying to confront arachnaphobia,” or deep fear of spiders, Bemis reports of individuals who may want to “white-knuckle” through holding a tarantula. “About 80-90% do confront their phobia successfully.”

Scott Bemis will be available on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at his presentation, and can be reached through his website www.scottstarantulas.com.

For more information on the Coarsegold Tarantula Awareness Festival, including a list of the days’ activities, visit the website at http://www.coarsegoldhistoricvillage.com/Tarantula.html

Tarantula Festival Flier 2012

About Kellie Flanagan

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