BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) - On 10 acres of rural Bastrop property in Central Texas, Jason and Victoria Fisher have built up a pretty quiet life for themselves in the middle of Mother Nature's beautiful canvas.
When they moved into a new home on some family land a year ago, the couple never imagined they would be battling the very thing that drew them to live in the area with their three children, a pet bunny and two rambunctious dogs: nature.
"We've seen a whole bunch of tarantulas, more than normal," said Jason. "We've seen probably up to 10 tarantulas [around] the house in the past month. And then driving back and forth from Austin to work, we've been seeing a few crossing the roads -- like they're just infested out here."
Board-certified entomologist Walker Hale, of ABC Home and Commercial Services, said spider season is in full swing.
"You just happen to be catching them in a transition move. They do migrate," he said. "The males migrate in, so you'll see them across roads with greater frequency and maybe around the property with greater frequency. Just the time of year."
Hale also said last September's fires could have something to do with it.
"Bastrop also had some of these fires to contend with, which they moved a lot of wildlife -- and that would include spiders, too, out of certain areas that they would normally just be sheltered in and you wouldn't see them," he said.
Hale said there may be several factors that can contribute to this year's numbers.
"The spiderlings of last year don't succumb to certain fungal infections [or] diseases, food is plentiful for them and just population dynamics. Things tend to ebb and flow," he said. "Why we're seeing them more this year could've been the early rains and the lack of rain when it really mattered last year, our drought."
Victoria's lived in the area her entire life, so seeing tarantulas is not uncommon for her -- just not in these types of numbers. For Jason, dealing with these furry, eight-legged visitors is a first-time experience altogether.
"It's kind of cool. I kind of like it," Jason chuckles. "They're kind of neat, but I know she doesn't like them."
And while Jason admits they don't bother him much and that he doesn't like to kill them, he uses a hammer, stick or really anything to get rid of them around his house -- even stepping on them or leaving the task up to their 2-year-old Labradors, Blue and Gunner.
"You know, that's definitely not something you want to see crawling around your house," said Victoria. "I want him to kill them. He doesn't want to kill them."
They mainly come out at dawn and at dusk at the Fisher family home.
"She was trying to move a chair that had fallen down on the patio, and she moved the chair. And it was right there, and it scared her quite a bit," said Jason.
"It surprised me," said Victoria. "I kind of jumped a little, and I was screaming, 'Kill it!'"
The lethargic arachnids that have made the Bastrop home their new hangout worry Victoria, especially with the children outside playing during the summertime.
"I don't want the dogs to eat them, really, because they sting," she said. "And you know, the kids don't like seeing them. I just tell them to stay away."
It's sound advice that Hale echoes: a live and let live approach.
"They're fairly docile. They aren't very aggressive," said Hale. "That's why they're a pet in many circumstances. About the worst they can do is kick hairs at you."
Hale said it's a tarantula's main mode of defense, called urticating hairs. They're irritating hairs that get itchy and provide some discomfort, especially in cases of curious dogs -- like the Fishers' -- who may become inclined to eat them.
"Their main display is kind of to rear back ... and that scares people when they see them, but if left to their own devices, they are not aggressive. They don't attack people," said Hale.
He added that the 1990 movie "Arachnophobia" -- about a South American spider that hitched a lift to the U.S. in a coffin and started to breed and kill -- has done a lot to bring people to really fear and loathe spiders.
"But the reality is that a bite from one of these spiders is a rare occurrence, and to that end, they don't like to actually interact with people in that way."
Other unwanted visitors out in that neck of the woods
"It's not the tarantulas that have bothered me so much; it's the scorpions," said Jason. "We've got tons of scorpions. In fact, there was one night I walked around here, and I killed probably over 100 scorpions on the house in one night."
The walls had morphed into squirming structures teeming with scorpions.
"I would smash them, and when I would come back around the house, there would be one eating the one I'd already smashed. They were just everywhere," said Jason.
In fact, it'd gotten so bad that his daughter got stung that night. And he's been stung twice now.
And unlike the tactful tarantulas, the scorpions have no boundaries
-- making their way inside the Fisher family home.
"We've been finding a lot of abnormalities, or what I would consider abnormal, sightings of all sorts of arachnids. You could talk about scorpions all the way through tarantulas," said Hale. "Some of it is [spiders] really like these hill country spaces or moving into what I would consider just wild habitat. [Spiders] want to have that place that is out and about that is not in the city."
However, the exterminator's recent visit to the home has knocked down the scorpion numbers tremendously.
Yet, that might not be the case with the tarantulas.
Treating troublesome tarantulas
According to entomologist Hale, you need a higher dosage of a pesticide that's a residual in order to affect any kind of spider, including tarantulas.
"There is no tried and true method of keeping tarantulas off your property," said Hale. "They don't pick up pesticides the same way that insect might by consuming them."
The real and short answer, according to Hale: You can't totally prevent tarantulas from being in the yard, and there's no perfect way to get rid of tarantulas.
What you can do to reduce the spiderly numbers
- Reduce the population of prey items, like crickets and grasshoppers and things they might be chasing. That way, you reduce the amount of tarantulas hanging around.
- You can look for the burrows, and treat in and around that area.
- Get rid of where they like to rest. Take those big stones, and move them further away from your property or directly around your structure. From there, you can directly reduce the number of things that they are going for -- the things that attract them.
Where do the spiders stay?
Rest easy. They generally don't like the inside of a home.
They do sit in burrows quite often, either small animal burrows that have been left behind or other little areas that they take over. You'll know it's spider because they'll put spinnerets around it, so it looks spidery. It's webby.
Naturally formed cracks that are just a result of drought conditions where the ground opens up -- if it's a clay-like soil -- are a perfect spot for them.
Hale said we sometimes create in our environments nice tarantula habitats as well, such as digging when creating fence lines or a post hole and the way we build houses.
A lot of times, fissure or cracks happen near the foundation of a home as it pulls away during drought or dry times. Spiders sometimes live inside those cracks between the foundation and the ground.
Hale adds that it's a misnomer that spiders live in the desert. They need microclimates that have a moist, humid environment.
Stone-covered hill country and any place that has an appreciable number of crickets -- both found at the Fishers' home -- will draw out more spiders. Crickets are one of their prey items.
Hale said tarantulas could be following food or mate attraction. You'll see them heading toward classic grounds where tarantulas can congregate.
In addition, any time you clear areas and are in the development stage of a neighborhood, you should expect to find more of many different things, such as snakes, lizards and all sorts of other creatures.
There may be some predation on spiderlings by scorpions but not likely the other way around.
Scorpions and spiders are oftentimes found in similar habitats. That is because they both favor the hill country or those rocky areas.
They both find those favorable harborage, and they like those microclimates that are a little moist, according to Hale.
A large, spider wasp called the tarantula hawk is a tarantula's natural enemy. It is a parasitoid of the spider.
The tarantula hawk stings the spider, paralyzing it. The larval wasp will then feed on and grow inside that frozen spider in suspended animation.
The tarantula will eventually die after being eaten from the inside.
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